Having recently returned from a trip touring Sri Lanka I couldn’t resist accepting the offer to participate in Rachel’s Random Resources blog tour for the cookery book A Feast of Serendib by Mary Anne Mohanraj, even if it my husband who does most of the cooking these days!
A Feast of Serendib
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.
My Review of A Feast of Serendib
A wide variety of recipes from Mary Anne Mohanraj’s Sri Lankan heritage.
I thoroughly enjoyed this cookery book because of Mary Anne Mohanraj’s honest conversational tone. It’s more like listening to a friend describe her cooking than reading an austere and prescriptive chef’s manual! The author frequently drops in tips about changes that can be made such as adding alcohol or substituting dried for fresh herbs and spices which might be more readily accessible. It made me smile when she pointed out the extra washing up that might arise from using a food processor in her Red Rice Congee for example.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the personal anecdotes so that I felt I got to know Mary Anne Mohanraj and her family. Her daughter’s favourite ginger garlic chicken is probably my favourite recipe as well. The introduction to the book and the cultural background bring alive the reasons for the recipes and it isn’t every day a cookery book has poetry too so that A Feast of Serendib has little added extras that satisfy the reader and cook. Indeed, my favourite part of the entire book was the poem Come To Me.
It almost goes without saying that there are some super recipes to try and the photographs enable the reader to feast with their eyes before they even attempt to cook. I think some more cautious cooks might feel slightly scared of Mary Anne’s willingness to adapt and alter her recipes as she goes, but they would be wrong. Her style here encourages tentative cooks to experiment and adjust what they are cooking to their own tastes so that they can truly own their food.
A Feast of Serendib is exactly that – a feast of Sri Lankan serendipitous food, culture and information, making for a book to enjoy with recipes to adapt as you cook.
About Mary Anne Mohanraj
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 WildCards 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.
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