Leek chic

September 21, 2010

When Senor came home from a garage sale one day grinning and brandishing a battered copy of this book, I cheered. It’s a classic, as many of you well know, but one I had never gotten round to looking at. It went on the cookbook shelf – and was promptly forgotten, till last night, when I finally dipped in.

I had a hankering for something spicy and easy and lentilish for dinner, and became very taken with the sound of Charmaine’s Sri Lankan Paripoo, which is a lot less rude than it sounds. Basically, this is red lentils cooked in coconut milk with lemongrass,  spices (turmeric, cinnamon, dried chilli) and loads of almost black-fried onion, plus some pounded dried shrimp in place of the Maldive fish, which I didn’t have and in fact till that moment had never heard of. Luckily, our freezer yielded some dried shrimp (triple-bagged) and I used Persian red lentils in place of Asian ones. The Persians are lovely – a tawny pink version that otherwise in shape and size look very like the French-style blue lentils I use in almost all other dishes. I  am sure Sri Lankan purists would paripoo-pooh my choice of pulse, but phooey to them. It was grand.

Now the lentils were very fine indeed, but what really rocked my world was this easy leek accompaniment. I don’t know how it works, but this really simple dish gave the lentils – and the accompanying rice pilau from the Pakistan pages of the book (just to show what a complete cultural philistine I am) – an amazing zing.

The finely chopped leeks are simply slowly sweated down in some oil with chilli powder, more pounded shrimp, salt and turmeric. That’s it – and yet, somehow, this all merges and melds into a sticky, slightly jammy, sweet, sharp and spicy little sambal that I think would go perfectly with many different kinds of curries & rice dishes.  Charmaine doesn’t call it a sambal, so it’s probably completely wrong to describe it like that. It’s simply called Leeks Fried with Chilli – or Leeks Mirisata – but its texture is so jammy that it’s almost like a chutney rather than a separate vegetable dish.  And because she emphasises using the green part of the leek as well as the white, it ends up a delicate pale lemony yellow. Beautiful!

Whatever it is, I am in love.  And I bet you will be too – the recipe is right here, just below the lentils. The quantity in the recipe seemed huge, so I halved it and that was plenty for the the two of us, with a goodly amount leftover for lunch too.

V: Interestingly, I had a little Twitter chat today about this with @KathrynElliott from the fab blog Limes & Lycopene, which our shucking pal Julie put me on to ages ago. Kathryn (who you’ll have met here in the comments sometimes) says Charmaine’s Complete Vegetarian book has a version of Leeks Mirisata  which simply leaves out the Maldive fish/shrimp. Then I recalled our Hamish’s suggestion that umeboshi plums could make a good substitute for anchovies. Kathryn thought this a fine idea, and then her pal Lucinda (from Nourish Me and – stay with me –  the other half of the very cool online mag An Honest Kitchen ) weighed in via Twitter (@LucyNourishMe) to say:  “A finely chopped piece of umeboshi, some garlic and shoyu is a grand anchovy sub. Stinky and rich enough.” So there you are – if I were doing this leeky thing veg style, I would definitely have a shot at getting that combo in somewhere. And shoyu, I learn, is similar to tamari.

Phew. Took longer to type that than make it. So go to it – happy eating!


  1. You’ve certainly had a lot more energy since you went onto the veg, Charlotte. It’s just one great post after another.

    This does sound good, and I am so pleased you are enjoying Charmaine Solomon’s classic- that complete it has been a good friend of mine, and has the stains to prove it, rude though that sounds. Very tempted to see if CS has updated any recipes in her Complete Veg book…

  2. Thanks Jules. I know I am on a bit of a roll blogwise at the moment, wanted to get a few in before going away next week. And of course while I may be looking a bit vegetarian from blogland, I still regularly succumb to the lure of the carne. One of the things that interests me is just how many bits of ‘meat’ one has to get rid of in a strict vego diet – like dried shrimp, fish sauce etc. I just know I’d never have the patience or fortitude to replace all of those things – but I do love thinking about and trying it all.

    Had a full-on vegan tell me last week that there was no moral difference between wearing silk and eating battery chicken, which I found a tad confronting I must say. And I don’t buy it, but I know that could be because I simply don’t like the idea …all very interesting to think about.

  3. I would have thought the slogan – Battery Chickens- no worse than silk, and how good is silk? could be quite a helpful for battery chicken Producers.

    I hesitate to say the silk worm lacks public appeal, the poor little wriggler cannot speak for itself. Difficult issues- I’m relaxing in a scratchy new hemp number even as I type.

    I’m enjoying the vegetable focus and,find them more photogenic than meat, especially in the raw. But if there is a link between your recent diet and your oomph in the blog department we should all go there.

    Dipping (cooked) artichoke leaves in carmelised balsamic vinegar is my current fad, and how virtuous is that?

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