Roasted Chicken with Date Molasses

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I made this sheet pan-roasted chicken when I was craving something savory and sweet. Influenced by the flavors of Persian Gulf cooking, this dish makes genius use of date molasses, a popular syrup in southern Iran, as well as in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

Serve this with basmati rice and pickled vegetables for a vinegary contrast.

Roast chicken with date molasses

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 chicken, cut into pieces
1 cup walnuts
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled, plus 1 clove garlic, grated
3 teaspoons sumac
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 cup pitted dates, halved
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup olive or avocado oil
3 tablespoons date molasses

1. Make the dry rub: Place 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the turmeric in a small bowl and mix. Rub the chicken pieces with the dry rub and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 425F degrees.

3. Make the wet rub: In a food processor, combine the walnuts, onion, 4 peeled garlic cloves, remaining teaspoon salt, remaining teaspoon pepper, sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, dates, lime juice, and 1/4 cup oil, and pulse until you have a grainy, chopped mixture. Rub the chicken pieces with the wet rub and push some under the skin. Arrange the chicken pieces on a baking sheet.

4. Cover loosely with foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.

5. In a small saucepan, mix the ingredients remaining 1 clove grated garlic, the remaining 1/4 cup oil, the date molasses, and 1 tablespoon water. Bring to a simmer over low heat, turn off, and set aside to keep warm.

6. Uncover the foil from the chicken and continue to bake for another 20 minutes.

7. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, baste the chicken with the date molasses mixture, and serve.

Sri Lankan Coconut Sambol (Pol Sambol)

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Few Sri Lankan meals are complete without pol sambol, the ubiquitous condiment that accompanies rice and curry. Spicy, citrusy, and salty, this coconut sambol brings a cooling element to otherwise fiery food. There are countless variations on pol sambol, but this one is my favorite.

I prefer pol sambol with rice and curry, but it’s also standard alongside roti or buttered bread. And uh, please forgive the poor quality photo. Sometimes you just can’t wait to dig into the pol sambol. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Pol Sambol

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chopped onion
2 serrano chiles, seeded
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1 sprig curry leaves
2 teaspoons Maldive fish
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup shredded coconut (fresh or previously frozen, not dried)
Juice of 1/2 lime

1. Place onion, serrano chile, garlic, cayenne pepper, curry leaves, and Maldive fish in a food processor and blend. Add the salt, pepper, and coconut and blend until mixture is bound.

2. Remove from food processor and put in a bowl, mix in lime juice, and let sit in the fridge for at least an hour, covered, for flavors to blend, before serving.

South Indian-Style Meyer Lemon Pickles

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This dish is an amalgamation of influences. The spices are Indian. The lemons are Californian. The peppers are Mexican.

South Asian lemon and lime pickles are typically cooked in the sun, the flavors soaking up the rays and developing over time. They often contain a bit of oil, a counterpart to their lip-smacking acidity. But lemon season in California is in the middle of winter, where the sun isn’t strong enough to cook much. And I wanted an oil-less pickle. Something fresh, spicy and bright to complement a seafood curry.

Enter Meyer lemon pickles. If you’re lucky enough to have access to Meyer lemons, you’ll know that they’re sweeter and juicier than you’re average lemon. We have a tree full of them, and so I experimented until I had the perfect lemon pickle. I’ve made jar after jar of these: my family asks for them now, too (lemon pickles go just as well with Iranian khoresh as they do with South Asian curry).

You’ll have to wait at least a couple of months for this pickle to be ready to eat: the peels will soften (the tastiest part), the juices will rise, and the flavors will really develop over time. Make sure to make a couple of extra jars. They won’t last long.

South Indian style Meyer lemon pickle

Ingredients:

8 Meyer lemons plus 1/2 Meyer lemon
7 green chiles (preferably Serrano), halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon minced ginger
5 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida (optional)
1 teaspoon turmeric

1. Wash and dry the 8 lemons thoroughly. Cut off the tops and ends, quarter lengthwise, and then cut each quarter into halves or thirds along the length.

2. Place the lemons in a large bowl and toss with salt and turmeric.

3. In the meantime, toast the mustard seeds, fenugreek, and asafoetida (if using) in a small pan until lightly toasted. Let cool and grind to a powder.

4. Add the spice mixture, cayenne pepper, ginger, green pepper, and juice of remaining 1/2 lemon and mix thoroughly. Divide between cleaned and sterilized jars. Seal and refrigerate, mixing every two days for the first two weeks. Wait at least 2 months before eating.

Seeni Sambol (Sweet and Spicy Caramelized Onions)

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Seeni sambol is meant to be eaten as a condiment, but I love this sweet and spicy onion relish so much that I eat it straight out of the container. No shame.

Like its Southeast Asian cousin sambal, Sri Lankan sambols are part of a larger meal, alongside dishes like hoppers or rice. This is my favorite sambol. It’s easy to make but takes patience: lots of stirring and doting over a pan of slowly caramelizing onions, Maldive fish, chili powder, curry leaves, and sugar. Feel free to adjust the amount of pepper to your preference.

Seeni sambol

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons oil
1 pound red onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
4 cardamom pods
4 cloves
2 inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup Maldive fish
5 tablespoons tamarind pulp, softened in 1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup coconut milk
juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons sugar

1. Strain softened tamarind pulp in a sieve, discarding solids. Mix tamarind pulp into coconut milk and set aside.

2. Heat oil in pan. Fry onions, garlic, ginger, and curry leaves until onions are golden brown.

3. Add cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, salt, cayenne pepper, Maldive fish, tamarind-coconut mixture, and lime. Cook, uncovered, on low heat for about 40 minutes.

4. Add sugar and mix well. Remove from heat, cool, and store in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Serve at room temperature.

Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder

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I’ll never buy bottled curry powder again.

Spices for Sri Lankan roasted curry powder

Sri Lankan cuisine is under the radar in the U.S. and it’s a shame. I’ve been lucky to taste so many Sri Lankan dishes with Nishan’s family and these days, I’m learning to cook it myself. It’s fiery, vibrant, and the flavors are an amalgamation of Sri Lanka’s history. The rice and curry spreads vary with Tamil dishes, Sinhalese dishes, Muslim dishes, Dutch and British-influenced dishes, and rice and coconut factor into nearly every meal. I could go on forever, but Serious Eats has already written a terrific primer on the cuisine.

The base to many of the curries I’ve been cooking is this roasted curry powder. In practice, it’s usually supplemented with large doses of chili powder and fresh chiles. This curry powder should keep indefinitely in the fridge, but I wouldn’t know. A batch rarely lasts long in our household.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon uncooked basmati rice
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 piece cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
5 cardamom pods, shelled
5 cloves
2 springs curry leaves

1. Toast each ingredient on a saucepan separately over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from heat, cool, and grind in a coffee grinder. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.