Today I have a recipe from Mary Anne Mohanraj’s Sri Lankan cookbook, ‘A Feast of Serendib’. Many thanks to RaRaResources for asking me to be involved. Before I share the recipe with you all, here is a little bit more about the book and the all important purchase links. Enjoy!
Dark roasted curry powder, a fine attention to the balance of salty-sour-sweet, wholesome red rice and toasted curry leaves, plenty of coconut milk and chili heat. These are the flavors of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka was a cross roads in the sea routes of the East. Three waves of colonization—Portuguese, Dutch and British—and the Chinese laborers who came with them, left their culinary imprint on Sri Lankan food. Sri Lankan cooking with its many vegetarian dishes gives testimony to the presence of a multi-ethnic and multi -religious population.
Everyday classics like beef smoore and Jaffna crab curry are joined by luxurious feast dishes, such as nargisi kofta and green mango curry, once served to King Kasyapa in his 5th century sky palace of Sigiriya.
Vegetable dishes include cashew curry, jackfruit curry, asparagus poriyal, tempered lentils, broccoli varai and lime-masala mushrooms. There are appetizers of chili-mango cashews, prawn lentil patties, fried mutton rolls, and ribbon tea sandwiches. Deviled chili eggs bring the heat, yet ginger-garlic chicken is mild enough for a small child. Desserts include Sir Lankan favorites: love cake, mango fluff, milk toffee and vattalappam, a richly-spiced coconut custard.
In A Feast of Serendib, Mary Anne Mohanraj introduces her mother’s cooking and her own Americanizations, providing a wonderful introduction to Sri Lankan American cooking, straightforward enough for a beginner, and nuanced enough to capture the flavor of Sri Lankan cooking.
Hoppers / Appam
If I had to pick the perfect Sri Lankan meal, this would be it. There’s nothing like breaking off a crisp piece of hopper, dipping it into broken egg, and scooping up some curry and a bit of seeni sambol. Delectable.
These rice flour pancakes have a unique shape; fermented batter is swirled in a special small hemispherical pan, so you end up with a soft, spongy center, and lacey, crispy sides – that contrast is the true glory of the hopper. (You can buy instant hopper mix, available online, and just add water, which will work fine, and doesn’t require overnight planning ahead. Many diasporic Sri Lankans I know use that option regularly.) Typically you’d make one egg hopper per person, plus another plain hopper or two, and maybe a sweet hopper to finish up.
If you don’t have a hopper pan, you can make hoppers in a regular frying pan; you just won’t get quite as much of the crispy sides. It’s a little time-consuming to make hoppers, since each one must be individually steamed for a few minutes, but with practice, you can have four hopper pans going on a stove at once. I’d recommend starting with just one pan at a time, though! Serve with curry and seeni sambol.
2 cups South Asian rice flour (or a mix of rice and wheat flour)
1 tsp sugar
pinch of baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups coconut milk
eggs for egg hoppers
extra coconut milk and jaggery for sweet hoppers
1. Mix first five ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl, cover, and set in a warm, turned-off oven to ferment overnight. (In a cold climate, fermentation may not occur without a little help – I turn my oven on to 250 degrees, and when it’s reached temperature, turn it off and put the covered bowl in the oven to stay warm.)
2. Mix again, adding water if necessary to make a quite thin, pourable batter.
3. Heat pan (grease if not non-stick) on medium, and when it’s hot, pour about 1/3 cup batter into the center. Pick up the pan immediately and swirl the batter around, coating the cooking surface. The sides of the hopper should end up with holes in them: thin, lacy, and crisp – if the batter is coating the pan more thickly, mix in some hot water to thin it down. Cover and let cook for 2-4 minutes – you’ll know it’s ready when the sides have started to brown and the center is thoroughly cooked. A silicone spatula will help with getting the hopper out of the pan.
4. For egg hoppers, after swirling, crack an egg in the center before covering. The egg will cook as the hopper does, finishing in about 3-4 minutes.
5. For sweet hoppers, after swirling, add a tablespoon of coconut milk and a teaspoon of jaggery to the center of the pan, then cook as usual.
About the author.
Mary Anne Mohanraj is the author of Bodies in Motion (HarperCollins), The Stars Change (Circlet Press) and thirteen other titles. Bodies in Motion was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards, a USA Today Notable Book, and has been translated into six languages. The Stars Change was a finalist for the Lambda, Rainbow, and Bisexual Book Awards.
Mohanraj founded the Hugo-nominated and World Fantasy Award-winning speculative literature magazine, Strange Horizons, and also founded Jaggery, a S. Asian & S. Asian diaspora literary journal (jaggerylit.com). She received a Breaking Barriers Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women for her work in Asian American arts organizing, won an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and was Guest of Honor at WisCon. She serves as Director of two literary organizations, DesiLit (www.desilit.org) and The Speculative Literature Foundation (www.speclit.org). She serves on the futurist boards of the XPrize and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
Mohanraj is Clinical Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and lives in a creaky old Victorian in Oak Park, just outside Chicago, with her husband, their two small children, and a sweet dog. Recent publications include stories for George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series, stories at Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Lightspeed, and an essay in Roxane Gay’s Unruly Bodies. 2017-2018 titles include Survivor (a SF/F anthology), Perennial, Invisible 3 (co-edited with Jim C. Hines), and Vegan Serendib.