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!