Wednesday, February 24, 2010

MMC Ingredient 2 - Pearl Onion

The second MMC challenge is:

Sunday Lunch from Mom's Kitchen:
Pearl Onion Sambar/Chinni vengaya Sambar/ Chummna Kandhecha Sambar

For the 2nd week of our MMC challenge, M brought a twist to the story. He gave me a choice of 3 ingredients out of which I had to pick one and give my reasons for choosing it. The three ingredients are:

1. Pearl Onion
2. Dates
3 Orange Juice

As soon as I heard the choices, I thought I knew right away what I was going to choose - Pearl Onions. I wanted to share with you all one of my mom's signature dishes - Sambar with Pearl Onions. But just a few minutes later, I could hear the Dates calling my name :-) I always wanted to use Dates other than in sweet chutney that we use for Chaat. So I thought this challenge is a good platform to use Dates in a innovative way. But the nostalgia & "Mom sentiment" won over innovation and I decided to go ahead and choose Pearl onion. So I am hoping "Mom senti" will sway the judge as well as it did me :-)

When I was young, this sambar was our Sunday special lunch with Aloo subji or with idlis for the Diwali eve dinner that my mom makes. Pearl onions also known as "Madras Onions" are widely available in Madras where I grew up. These tiny ones have a very different taste, much less pungent and sweeter than their larger counterpart. But the main problem with these is peeling them. Though these onions dont bring as much tears to your eyes like the bigger ones, they still are pretty potent and added to this was the miniature size that makes it hard to peel. So before we actually got to enjoy the dish we had to go through the grueling work of peeling the onions.

Preparing the onions prior to cooking was a big chore; obviously those were the days before the comfort of frozen or ready to cook vegetables was readily available. My dad used to soak it in cold water to remove the dirt/mud and then all us kids had to sit down and help him peel. Wet onions, sticky peel - not a good combination; I used to hate this chore. But.. oh so in love was I with the dish that I didnt mind all the trouble. Me being the enforcer of gender equality in the household, I would fight really hard with my brothers accusing them of not doing the chore but getting to enjoy the reward alone. As any of you who grew up with brothers might know, Sunday morning will invariably have a few different cricket matches that my brothers had to run too. So it was pretty convenient for them that they'd be out the whole morning and show up just in time for the sumptuous lunch. I used to get so angry at them then but thinking of it now brings a smile to my face thinking of all that silliness :-)

So here's the Sambar with Pearl Onion the way my mom makes but in my kitchen. My mom never gives me exact measurement for any recipe coz as most mom's, she herself doesnt use any standard measurement. Its always a handful of this or a handful of that. So I have tried a few different version and have standardized it to our taste.

  1. I like the taste of Dhaniya/coriander. So I have been a bit liberal with it.
  2. I have used frozen red pearl onions (thawed in the microwave for a few min). You can use fresh ones as well if available.
  3. The speciality of this dish is the inclusion of cloves and cinnamon bark. These two spices sets this recipe apart from the Tamilian/Keralite "arachivitta sambar" (Sambar with ground coconut based masala).
  4. I love my pressure cooker for cooking dal as it saves me lotsa time. If you dont have a pressure cooker, boil the dal with or without onions for 20 to 30 minutes until well cooked. Soaking the toor dal in warm water for 1/2 hr prior to cooking it will help quicken the cooking process.
  5. My husband does not share my love for the pearl onions the way I do. He is not too keen the whole pearl onions but loves the flavor when they are cooked into the dal. So I normally pressure cook the onions with dal. But if you want to retain the wholeness of the onions, I would suggest sauteing it with the mustard and jeera (step 3), wait until it gets tender before adding tamarind water.
  6. I find it easy to use tamarind concentrate. But if you have tamarind, soak it in water and extract the pulp. Use 1/4 cup thick pulp in place of 1 tbsp tamarind concentrate. Depending on the sourness you'd like, adjust the amount of tamarind in the recipe. I normally go easy on the tamarind.
  7. Masala can be made ahead of time. Can be refrigerated for a couple of days or may be frozen for almost a month.
12 oz red pearl onions (white ones are fine as well. Save a few to be blended with the masala)
3/4 cup toor dal
1 cup water
1 to 11/4 tbsp tamarind concentrate (dissolve it in 1/4 cup water)
1 tsp turmeric
A few pinches of asafoetida
Salt to taste

Masala -
1/2 cup dhaniya (coriander seeds)
2 tbsp chana dal
2 tsp Jeera (cumin seeds)
1/2 tsp methi seeds (Fenugreek)
1 inch stick cinnamon bark
6 cloves
5-6 red chillies
1/4 cup coconut (dessicated, fresh or frozen)
3-4 nos. pearl onions
1/4 cup water (or as needed)

2 tbsp oil
2 tsp chana dal
2 red chillies
1 tsp Jeera (cumin)
1 tsp mustard seeds
4-5 curry leaves

  1. For masala: Dry roast each ingredient given under Masala (except water, obviously) until they turn light brown and aromatic. Let it cool. Grind into a smooth paste with water. Set aside.
  2. Pressure cook the dal and onions with one cup water, a pinch of turmeric and a few drops of oil. I normally allow 3-4 whistle and this works best for my cooker. Turn off the heat and let the pressure release naturally.
  3. In a medium sized pot, heat oil and add all the ingredient for tadka starting with the dals. Let the mustard and curry leaves splutter.
  4. Now add the tamarind concentrate dissolved in water. Add turmeric and asafoetida. Allow this to boil until the raw smell of tamarind disappears. (5 min or so)
  5. Now add the cooked dal and the ground masala. Add more water only if necessary. Stir frequently.
  6. Adjust seasoning, simmer for another 5 min to 10 min, until the masala gets cooked.
  7. Garnish with a few drops of sesame oil. Serve with hot rice. Goes well with Idlis or Dosas too.
Enjoy !!


Nostalgia said...

Yum! love pearl onions myself and use it liberally in a lot of my cooking..

Asha said...

I love Pearl onions in Sambhar, looks so tasty.

Usha said...

Pearl onion sambar is one of my favorites !This one looks delicious !

Gulmohar said...

Love pearl onions in sambar...even when I make the normal sambar I use a lot of this

Shri said...

Love those onions in sambar..Such a delightful combination..