Leek Thel Dala: Tasty Fried Sri Lankan Leeks

Sri Lankan fried leeks in a white bowl

Inspired by a fabulous Welsh themed dinner party at our friends’ last night, filled with laughter and delicious food, leeks are now on the menu at home today too!

Somewhat shamefully I only started cooking with leeks earlier this year. Up until then I’d always dismissed the leek as being dull and dated. I assumed leeks would be a bland alternative to onions and surely unworthy of being a side dish. However, after being faced with a limited choice of seasonal fruit and veg at our local farmer’s market last spring, I thought I’d give leeks a go. I followed a super easy recipe (simply sliced and sauteed in oodles of melted butter) and couldn’t believe how luscious they were! I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased to be proved wrong! Although, admittedly also quite upset to have to face the realisation that I’d been missing out on them for so long. Anyway, the point is, now I buy leeks all the time. They have become a fridge staple!

Typically associated with cool climates, leeks are probably not the first vegetable that springs to mind when thinking of Sri Lankan food. However, they are commonly grown in the up country wet areas of Nuwara Eliya and are used to make tasty Sri Lankan dishes. This simple recipe uses very few ingredients, preserving the delicate flavour of the leeks and makes a fantastic side dish to rice and curry. The crushed chillies provide plenty of warmth and lying somewhere between a side and a sambol, this dish also pairs perfectly with roasted meats. I personally prefer the richer and more comforting flavour that results from leeks being cooked in ghee or butter, but you could definitely use oil if you prefer.

For a vegan or vegetarian alternative, simply remove the Maldive fish from the recipe and replace the fat with a suitable alternative. Similarly use oil instead of butter or ghee to make dairy free.

Serves: 4 (as an accompaniment)

Ingredients

2 leeks, white part only, sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp ghee (or butter)
1 tsp Maldive fish, ground or pounded in pestle and mortar
1 tsp crushed chili flakes
1 tsp turmeric
Salt, to taste
Squeeze of lime juice

Method

  1. Begin by washing your leeks well. If you are unsure how to wash and prepare leeks, have a look at this guide. I found it really useful.
  2. Heat ghee in a saucepan. When melted, add garlic and fry for about 1 minute.
  3. Add leeks to the pan and coat well in ghee. Stir and fry for a couple of minutes.
  4. Next add the turmeric, chilli flakes, Maldive fish and salt and stir well.
  5. Reduce heat and saute for 15-20 mins, stirring occasionally.
  6. Once reduced and browned, remove from heat, squeeze over some lime juice and serve with rice and curry.

Leeks frying in a saucepan with ghee

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