Sri Lankan Spiced Potatoes

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Crispy potatoes, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Actually, scratch that, let me just cook up a batch of these generously spiced potatoes, which are like potato hash on overdrive.

This classic Sri Lankan dish is spicy, oniony, flecked with umami-laden Maldive fish, and perfectly crisped at the edges. Letting the potatoes brown sufficiently is key to their success — there’s nothing like the combination of that crispy exterior and creamy interior. These potatoes reheat well, too. Not that there’ll be any left over.

Sri Lankan spiced potatoes


2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 sprigs curry leaves
3 dry red chiles, ground (1 to 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon Maldive fish
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon lime juice

1. Bring water to boil in a pot. Add potatoes and boil for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a pan. Saute onions and curry leaves until onions are translucent.

3. Add potatoes, chiles, Maldive fish, turmeric, and salt. Saute for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are browned. Remove from heat and squeeze lime juice over before serving.

King Oyster Mushrooms with Broccoli

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And just like that, Thanksgiving is over. It’s time to atone for this year’s gluttony so I’m seeking out vegetables and greens in every meal this week. Mushrooms are in season and king oyster mushrooms in particular are my craving at the moment. King oyster mushrooms are readily available at Asian grocers and are worth seeking out for their meaty, velvety texture. Feel free to substitute with shiitake or even portobello mushrooms, if you prefer.

Tossed with crisp-tender broccoli, this side dish is autumn on a platter. Pumpkin spice flavored everything has nothing on this.

King oyster mushrooms and broccoli


1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3 cups broccoli florets
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 quarter sized slices ginger, crushed
1 pound king oyster mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons water

1. Stir the chicken broth, water, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar in a bowl to combine.

2. To prepare the broccoli, bring a medium pot filled with water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli and cook until bright green and tender-crisp, about 1 minute. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.

3. Place a wok over high heat. Add the oil. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry until they begin to slightly brown, about 3 minutes. Add the sauce and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook, until the sauce boils and thickens slightly.

4. Arrange the broccoli in the center of a serving platter and arrange the mushrooms around it. Pour the sauce over the vegetables and serve.

Tofu Jelly

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Do you like aspic? Do you like gelatin? Do you enjoy smooth, gelatinous textures? Then you’ll love tofu jelly, my friends. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. I fiend for these textures, so when I made this chilled tofu concoction, I realized I’d hit the jackpot.

This savory and cooling dish is perfect as a snack or appetizer on a hot summer day and takes only about ten minutes to prepare. Even if you don’t crave jelly-like textures, give this a try. You might end up hooked, just like I did.

Tofu jelly


1/2 block silken tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 red bell pepper (fresh or jarred), finely chopped
1 2/3 cups dashi stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon mirin
1 envelope unflavored powdered gelatin (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 teaspoons)

1. Over medium heat, bring the dashi broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the soy sauce, sugar, and mirin to the broth and remove from heat.

2. Put three tablespoons water and the powdered gelatin into a heat-resistant cup until soft. Place the cup in a microwave oven and heat for 30 seconds to dissolve the gelatin.

3. Add the peppers and the dissolved gelatin to the broth mixture and mix well.

4. Divide the tofu between six individual serving cups and pour the gelatin-broth mixture over each cup to cover. Chill in a refrigerator for at least three hours to cool until solidified. Serve chilled.

Silken Tofu with Mushrooms

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It’s hot in the East Bay, so hot that I really don’t want to turn the stove on these days. I’m throwing caution to the wind and preparing a refreshingly chilled entree to combat the heat. Who says dinner has to be served warm? Live a little, y’all.

This Japanese dish is a protein-packed double whammy of tofu and mushrooms. Lately I use shimeji and enoki mushrooms but you can use whatever looks good in the market. It comes together in minutes and requires only five minutes of stove time, making it perfect for those wtf-BART-had-three-delays-on-the-commute-home type of evenings.

Silken tofu with enoki and shimeji mushrooms

1 block silken (soft) tofu, drained
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
10 ounces mushrooms, such as shimeji, enoki, shiitake, or maitake
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sake
2/3 cup dashi broth
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 teaspoons water
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1. Cut the tofu into quarters to make 4 large blocks and place on a serving platter.

2. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Sprinkle with salt and add the sake and deglaze the pan. Add the dashi broth, soy sauce, and mirin and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir for about 1 minute or until thickened.

3. Pour the mushroom sauce evenly over the tofu and garnish with the green onions. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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


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.