My parents, uncles, great-aunts, they were great party animals when I was a child! Or so it seemed to me. I grew up spending weekends in homes full of cousins (both related and unrelated) and adults screaming for joy over music. No one worried about eating until 9 or 10 at night, in true Sri Lankan style, munching while waiting on eat short – an entire category of Sri Lankan food designed to eat between two more serious meals. Finally, the host and other helping hands gently heated trays of rice covered in foil scented with turmeric and curry leaves and steamed Corningware bowls of prepared mutton, kingfish and okra curry. .
The parties stopped at one point. Blame the hustle and bustle of the mainstream culture, or maybe our specific diaspora group wandering off, street by mainstreet of Scarborough. But it was always a certainty that the first week of the year my parents would have a serious dinner party. “You have to see your people on the 1st or as soon as possible after,” my mother said. The idea was to renew your most important relationships for the coming year. But in a house where “what you do on the 1st, you will do it all year round”, the idea was also to make sure that you would have people around you. So without fail the stove fans were purring, I would be stuck in an itchy robe and the doorbell was ringing – a sound that sent waves of excitement to me as it sent waves of people into the house.
That dinner isn’t happening this year, with social gatherings suspended, makes me sad, of course, but suspicious too! I have always viewed this as a direct deal with the Fates: pursue the auspicious act of bringing together the people you want most around you over the next year to be blessed with it.
In any other year, I urge you to adopt this practice to consolidate your luck. In this year, I suggest that we simply take on the aspect that we still can and can see us through the year: a menu so aromatic and deeply warm that it envelops us. At these dinners it was always the aptly named kaha bath or “yellow rice” that I mentioned, “white” curries of leeks or green beans (pale yellow from fresh curry leaves instead of curry powder), spicy fried eggplant, black pork curry and a peppery fish to match the heat “Spicy Sri Lankan.” First of all, there’s no better time of year for foods that blow off steam and bubble on the stovetop, firmly incorporate the spices into your air, and heat you up to the point of producing pearls on your forehead. Second, while none of this makes up for who and what is missing, it is also a kind of ante, where we invest with the same good faith in heartwarming rituals to see the rewards return. Here are some recipes to inspire you. Hope you end up being with everyone you want to have near you this year.
Celebration Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Dates
Yueh Tung’s Chili Chicken Recipe
Eggplant Borani to make ahead
Shelly’s Corn Pakoras with Sabz Chutney
Turkey neck soup
Dal aur Sabzi: Lentils with Roasted Carrots and Kale
Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi
Classic Pumpkin Pie
Yasmin Seneviratne is a producer at CBC Life and creator of Le Sauce magazine.