Pearl Onions were called sambhar onions back home for a reason. My mother used them only to make sambhar and that is all I knew about them till we started to get a small bag home every now on then. I guess my initial apprehension had everything to do with my misconceptions about peeling them. But the first bag of onions came with a little note with instruction. All you have to do is apparently blanch them in boiling water for three minutes, take them out, cool, chop one end and squeeze the other to get a shiny gel like pearl. I tried them on the first batch and was pleased to note that the technique worked.
Ever since we have been tying them in all kinds of dishes and enjoying their mild sweet taste. Add a couple to your canned soup, or if you desire something a wee bit adventurous, pressure cook (two whistles only) a handful of pearl onions with Nutrela nuggets and baby potatoes in a standard tomato, onion gravy for a delicious entrée.
I still believe that no other dish brings out the full flavour of these onions as sambhar does. I might be biased because of my childhood associations. I have come to realise that there are as many sambhar recipes as there are cooks, so here’s yet another recipe which goes back to my friend and cooking guru V.
Toor Dal – 1 1/2 cups
Pearl Onions – 10-15 , blanced and peeled
Tomatoes – 2 medium, chopped
Tamarind Paste – 1 tbsp
Sambhar Masala – 3 tbsps
Dry, Shredded Coconut – 1 tbsps
Salt – to taste
Jaggery – optional
Ghee or vegetable oil – 2 tbsps
Urad dal -1 tsp
Mustard Seeds – 1 tsp
Dry Red Chillies – 5-6
Curry Leaves – 2 sprigs, shredded
1. Cook the toor dal with salt till it falls apart. Usually 4-5 whistles in a pressure cooker does the job. Mash it well and dilute with water to get desired consistency .
2. Now add the onions, chopped tomatoes and the tamarind paste and cook on medium heat till the tomatoes and onions are done. This should take about 6-7 minutes. At the end the dal hsould be dark brown in color.
3. In the meanwhile, grind the sambhar masala and coconut with a little water to a fine paste.
4. Once the tomatoes and onions are cooked, add the sambhar masala paste and stir. Cook on low heat for about 10 minutes. Taste for sourness. If it’s not sour enough, add lime juice. On the other hand if it’s too sour, add a little jaggery to moderate taste.
5. Finally heat the oil or ghee in a pan, add the tempering ingredients. Once the curry leaves are aromatic and crisp, add it to the cooked dal.
6. Taste one last time and adjust seasoning. Enjoy with rice and forget all about clicking pictures of the steaming bowl.
PS: The technical name might be Pearl Onions, but I love calling them baby onions. Like baby potatoes, baby carrots and bay bella's it tickles me pink to think of these onions as a part of the little vegetable group. For all we know they could be the Smurf's or Lilliputians of the vegetable world. Imagine the riot they might be causing in the crisper when put together with the towering bell pepper or the ginormous head of cabbage.