The dog days of summer are gone, bringing in gusts of cold wind. But the unexpected warmth had us meeting friends at the market, where I ran into my chiropractor who worked magic on my "mommy thumb". I found fresh, fresh leeks and brought those home with a vague idea of…. nothing. They were just my fancy new purchase of the day. Humour me. If you think they're as mundane as onions (careful there! There are many chefs who think the world of onions), I don't. To me, they are bundles of mystery. To be peeled apart, layer by layer. With no idea how to use them. I have, in the past, been guilty of letting leeks ripen(?) and rot in the cold box. Not today.
That was Sunday, and I just found some time to finish it up. I have been busy on the professional front.
I set them out on the counter for inspiration. Looked up how to clean it and which part to use in it.
And thought of onion pachadi or thogayal. Something similar? Except, I don't know how to make it. Had to wing it, with my dear wingie Mother Hen coming over for dinner (giddit, people from the long gone college days, giddit?). "Why not! Worth a try!", said the chick's voice, and here goes.
I cut each leek just where the light green merges with the dark green, and discarded the dark green. Halved it lengthwise, then chopped it. I ran water over the chopped leeks while manually separating the layers, loosening dirt. There were 3 leeks in all. Which made for quite a bit of chopped leeks. I did mention that they were very fresh, right! So, 2 of those had much more white and light than dark green.
Leeks 3; prepared as above
Mustard seeds 2 tsp
Split urad dal (black gram) 4 tsp
Methi seeds (fenugreek) 1/2 tsp
Red chilli to taste (I added only 1, but should have added at least 3)
Hing (asafoetida) a sprinkle
Jeera (cumin) 1 tsp
Oil 1 Tbsp (I ran out of oil, so I used freshly made-at-home ghee, which I am sure didn't do the taste any harm) 😉
To add while grinding
Salt to taste
Haldi (turmeric) 1 tsp
Tamarind 1 table tennis ball-sized; but it would really depend on the tamarind you have. I have had vastly different results with different kinds of it. I use the Thai tamarind fruit jelly-like packets now. If you add too much, increasing spice (green chillies) as well as sugar/gur (jaggery) is a good fix.
Green chillies to taste; again, depends on spice tolerance, and hotness of the chilli
Gur (jaggery) 1-2 tsp, powdered; I only had brown sugar, so I used a combination of brown sugar and unsulphured molasses. Lame, I know, but it works! I made sweet pongal like that once, and it never tasted more authentic!!! R will eat anything but has very fixed ideas about how foods *should* taste, and he corroborates my claim of authenticity.
Heat cast iron (or other) skillet and add oil to it.
Add seasoning ingredients to it one by one, tradition says, but I don't have the patience, and add them all as soon as I lay my hands on them. When urad dal turns red and mustard seeds splutter, add the leeks and saute till the pieces turn translucent.
Remove from heat, and let it cool.
Add all grinding ingredients in a grinder/food processor, along with the leeks, and taste check for salt, spice, sweet, and sour, and yes, even bitter, and voila!
Ideal world: I would first let the mustard pop and the urad dal turn red, remove from flame, and saute the leeks in the leftover oil. Then, combine everything once cooling down happens, and buzz the machine. I didn't have the time, so I did what I did.
Ideal world: I would pop some more mustard seeds and some washed curry leaves in some oil and garnish. Lucky, I had to do this step for drumstick sambar (that tasted surprisingly exactly as it should, btw), because I used part of the sambar seasoning for the garnish. Otherwise, I simply skip this step.
Enjoy with hot rice or dosa or idli, or even an addition to lentil soup like I did today because…you guessed it…the toddler was playing around my feet, not letting me do much…alright, alright, I admit it, I was too lazy to cut onions, but wanted a bit of an onion-y flavour to it. There!