Thursday, March 22, 2018

Chinna Vengayam Pulikaichchal

Few days ago I picked up a big bunch of shallots, yes you heard it right, bunch - because the vendors gather them with lot of their dried stem roots still attached to the bulb and make a bunch. That is how they are sold in the local markets here. The shallots made a very colourful subject to photograph. I had just then got a wood carving man to make me a small container of sorts with a piece of broken tree branch. They both made a vibrant combination in the picture.

I shared the same on my Instagram feed and many suggestions were there to use them in delicious dishes. I cooked them in a few and was left with a rather large batch that I cannot finish before leaving for my holiday. I ended up making this pulikaichchal that is more preserve like and would stay fresh for days if refrigerated. It was reminded of this by my sister, who does not like and will not have onions and garlic; she would smell it however much we mask the taste.
My father's clients would bring produce from their farms and crops like groundnuts, tapioca and shallots used to be brought soon as they have been harvested. They will still be wet and soil soaked and fresh. My mother would then simply spread them on a newspaper in the corner of a room and use them in batches. She cleaned them as and when she was cooking them. She would often make this dish because it works well as a side for dosais, idlies, pongal and also rice. Painful as it may seem to peel and cut those fresh pungent shallots, the taste of the dish makes it all worth the effort.
When we did not have a refrigerator also, this dish used to keep good for days together, provided we are not careless in the use of utensils and serving spoons. Cooking it in some stoneware utensil will add to the flavour and one might simply store in the same too. I have, with me here, a very heavy bottomed stainless steel pan that is ideal to cook on even heat and slow cooking happens easily.

Chinna Vengayam Pulikaichchal 

Makes 300 ml of pulikaichchal

200 grams of shallots/ Madras onions/chinna vengayam
2&1/2 tablespoons tightly packed tamarind bits
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida powder (or a 1/2 centimeter square of asafoetida dissolved in little water)
1 heaped tablespoon coarse crystal salt (I use pink Himalayan salt) (adjust to taste)

1/4 cup gingelly oil (divided - to saute the onions and for cooking)

For the spice powder:
7-8 dry red chillis (adjusting to the level of heat tolerance and the heat of chillis)
(+3 Kashmiri chillis for the colour, because my red chillis are very brown)
3 &1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon channa dhal
2 teaspoons sesame seeds (white or black, cleaned)

For the tempering: 
1 teaspoon gingelly oil
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon channa dhal
1 teaspoon urad dhal
2 dry red chillis broken in small bits
15 curry leaves washed clean

Soak the tamarind in water for about 20 minutes and extract the pulp. I repeat the process to extract all the pulp and the last batch of water does not even get the colour.
Dry roast the ingredients given for the spice powder, each separately and on low heat so they are evenly done. Cool them and make a coarse powder. Keep aside.
Peel the shallots and cut them in small pieces.
Heat a few spoons of the gingelly oil and add the onions. Saute them until they are translucent, not very brown.
Add the tamarind extract, turmeric powder and salt. Top up the water just a little more and cook on low heat, to remove the raw taste of tamarind.

When this is simmering, heat the oil for tempering in another pan and add the ingredients listed under there. Once the mustard seeds have crackled and the dhals are golden, transfer this to the simmering mix.
Add the rest of the oil and the spice powder.
Cook for some more minutes blending them well.
Allow it to simmer and the oil will separate forming a layer over the pulikaichchal.
Remove from the stove and let it cool.

Transfer to clean glass bottles or bowls with lids for storing.
Serve as a side dish with dosais, idlis, pidi kozukkattais and arisi upma. You can mix with steamed hot rice and eat as a dish by itself too.

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