Currying favor

Submitted photo

I knew her when. And, turns out, I still do.

We recently reconnected at a pop-up dinner hosted in Our Kitchen, the daytime diner where Heather Jansz now concocts the fab food of her native Sri Lanka twice weekly in her guise as the Curry Diva.

Or call her the grande dame of curry. She’s earned the title. Heather’s been winning converts to that tasty style of cooking for 40 years, starting ’way back when in a quasi-speakeasy setting (knock three times), where her cred among avid foodies grew by word of mouth. She and her partner later moved the Sri Lanka Curry House to a bigger Uptown location, where those macho chest-beaters who ordered it hot (or worse: hotter) usually required a phone call to the paramedics. Then, she segued to her Curry Leaf deli in St. Paul.

Thanks to a sweet arrangement with the owner of Our Kitchen, she’s back in South Minneapolis, offering multi-course, family-style feasts by reservation at the 16-seat diner Wednesday and Saturday evenings (two seatings: 6:30 and 7:45). She hangs a couple of saris over the window, dims the lights, and then, with the help of a couple of assistants, orchestrates the moves aside the griddle (above which breakfast cereals stand ready for the morning trade).

While she’s readying the platters, start with (optional extra) a mountain of crispy, almost translucent, utterly irresistible pappadum, abetted by a nutty-flavored hummus chutney while you’re chatting with your neighbors on the adjoining counter stools.

Then the dishes start to multiply. In no particular order, you’re soon surrounded by various bowls of what’s on hand tonight, starting with a fluffy mound of tender, long-grained rice stained yellow with turmeric and dotted with green peas. On one side, a heap of stewed veggies—zucchini, etc.—and on the other, a mini-mountain of golden lentils, long-simmered with Heather’s favored spices, including curry leaf and turmeric.

Beef stew wafts its comforting aroma from its own bowl, in which chunks of meat meet carrots and potatoes in a blend of cinnamon, cloves and coriander. Another bowl holds tender cuts of chicken in a sauce enriched with her garam masala spice blend. Ramekins on the side offer sambals for DIY sprinkling and taste-tweaking: one, finely-chopped coconut pumped up with chilies for those who crave a little heat, and the other a sweet, thick ginger-craisin chutney.

A pair of salads add crunch and cool: first, a mélange of cabbage and tomato; then a harvest’s worth of crunchy finely-chopped kale dressed in tahini, ready to cleanse that dancing palate. Or summon an order (optional extra) of coconut roti, a chewy “pancake” fresh off the griddle, cut into wedges and ready to share. Those who care to purchase a beverage may choose from juices like soursop, passion fruit and basil, or chai tea.

Heather has designed her menu, she says, to activate “all the taste senses: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. I cook to satisfy my soul.” Mine, too. And my pocketbook.

Tab for the meal (gasp!) $18 (cash only).


Curry Diva
813 W. 36th St.