Looking back at all the things I hated as a child, I’m amazed at my cloth-headedness. I hated, for example, those small Madras onions or shallots that my mom would put in sambar. Everyone else could appreciate how marvellously their sweetness emphasised sambar’s spicy-tangy taste, but I would methodically pick all the shallots, cooked perfectly to a soft translucency, and then, when nobody was watching, throw them away.
I’ve come around to them as an adult, though, enjoying the intensity they bring to different dishes. I love them in sambar and the utterly delectable spicy and sour dish known as ulli theeyal (will post a recipe soon). I also like using a couple of shallots in the tempering for pulissery, and adding them raw – along with slit green chillies, minced ginger and torn curry leaves – to buttermilk. My favourite way to use them, however, is in a very basic chutney (I know, big surprise), that goes best with dosas. Trust me when I say that once you’ve had dosas with this chutney, you will be done with all other kinds of dosa chutneys.
You can make this chutney with regular red onions, too, in case you can’t find shallots. But it will be sweeter, while not being as intense as shallot chutney, and, since onions have more water content, may take a little longer to cook.
2 cups – Shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4-5 – Dried red chillies
1 tbsp – Coconut oil
Salt, to taste
In a wok, heat half the coconut oil over medium flame.
Once its hot, throw in the shallots, and, turning the flame to low, fry them till they start to become translucent.
Add the red chillies and continue frying until the shallots shrink and become golden brown. This will take at least 15 minutes. Resist the temptation to increase the heat, unless you want a burnt mess.
Once the shallots are brown and sticky, turn off the flame and allow them to come down to room temperature.
Grind to a paste, with a pinch of salt.
Top the chutney with the remaining raw coconut oil and serve on the side with hot dosas.
This is one of those preparations in which coconut oil is absolutely needed, because it adds to the overall taste of the chutney.
Many people also add a bit of tamarind to this chutney.
If you want, you can also temper it with some mustard seeds and curry leaves before serving.
[The Back Burner is a weekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]