Friday, March 02, 2007

The Chilli of the Valley

Well, there’s no valley (or lily) – it’s more a headline that’s intended to make an impression! But in a larger sense, it IS the chilli of my valley – the seeds came from an aunt’s home, went to another’s, came back to yet another’s – which is where I got them from. And the aunt last to be mentioned, actually my great aunt, gave me this recipe.

I’d almost have missed this dish. Aunty was reluctant to serve it because it was a day old when we visited her but I shamelessly lobbied for it to be included in the meal, ended up eating everything I could and even carried the leftovers home, not to mention the rest of those same chillies in the refrigerator! Along with the recipe, of course!

My grandmother (Aunty’s sister) would slave over this dish – I haven’t eaten it often since she stopped cooking. My own efforts, a muddle of deduction, shortcuts and impatience, resulted in this taste remaining a fond memory, but thanks to these generous aunts, will no longer remain so!

My grandmom used green capsicum (bell peppers) for this dish. She would prepare the mixture patiently, decapitate the capsicum carefully, stuff them with the mixture, put the caps back on, tie them with thread, stand them in a frying pan in a puddle of oil, then lay them down and fry them on all sides till the skin was discoloured, even on the verge of turning black, softer and succulent.

The attraction is the mixture inside combining with the juicy skin, and any that escaped would make a nice, dry, fried, powdery bonus. It’s lovely eaten with rice – I’m not sure what it is about us that makes us tear apart vegetables that have been put together so carefully once they approach our plates, but that’s one of life’s quirks, I guess.

Well, my great aunt’s recipe involves the microwave, so the cooking time, vigil, oil, everything involved in that long process is shorter, but just as tasty. Forgive me if there are no exact measurements, I was just too keen to get on with it, and approached it but with two thoughts in mind: I’m going to discover the secret, it’s going into my blog!

It is a laborious process if you're using small chillies but it’s worth it, and coming from a person who prefers a simpler style, that’s saying a lot! Also, I didn’t use the capsicum that my grandmom did, these are miniature versions that grow in my aunts’ kitchen garden, like I said. And it’s a one-off dish for me, I don’t think I’ll be able to get my hands on these chillies till my aunt visits again!
So here goes:

Capsicum/Biggish round chillies
Some besan/chick pea flour/senaga pindi
A whole pod of garlic, peeled
Cumin seed/jeera – 3-4 tsp, roasted dry
Salt - to taste
Oil – 2-3 tsp + 1 tsp
Some butter, just a dab or two

For tempering:
Mustard seed, cumin seed, split urad dal/black gram, dry red chilli

Roast the flour for a minute or two in a thick-bottomed pan. (Till it changes colour slightly.) Watch it like a hawk, it gets burnt easily.
Grind/mash the cumin and peeled garlic into a rough paste. Mix this with the flour, adding butter to bind – it’s like rubbing butter into flour for cake, you get fine crumbs.

Slit the chillies/capsicum and get rid of as many seeds as you can – try to get at the hard core of seeds and tip it out with the tip of your knife. Try not to let the knife go through the other side – I’ve heard that a safety pin works well but I’ve never tried this trick! Don’t remove all the seeds unless you have zero tolerance to heat, though; keep a few – that’s what imparts taste.

Stuff the chillies with the flour mixture. It’s not impossible to keep the chilli/pepper from ‘leaking’ even if it’s punctured on the other side, but if you’re unsure, keep it together with a toothpick (as I’ve done with some in the picture; I’ve also done that to some whose caps I sliced off in an experimenting mood).

Apply oil on a microwaveable plate, arrange the chillies on it, smear them with a light coating of oil or trail a spoon of oil over them, and microwave for six minutes on High – by High, I mean the highest power, that’s what I did. I did this in three spells of two minutes each, though, because I wanted to be sure I didn’t char them black. Those who don’t use a microwave oven can follow my grandmom’s methods detailed earlier in this post.

Now, in a frying pan, heat a spoon of oil, temper with the mustard, cumin, black gram and red chilli, put in these chillies, leftover mixture, if any, and quickly saute it. You’ll know it’s done my way if the skins wrinkle just a bit more and look a little drier. With bell peppers, you’ll probably have to wait a little longer.

This turned out to be an expensive dish to make – I went to the gym late, spent good money on faster transport and on the way back home, bought a shirt I’d usually only wear on holiday for a considerable amount of money as it was calling out to me from the sales gallery next to the gym – none of which would have taken place if I hadn’t been so righteous about exercising late in the day despite all that time spent in the kitchen! Look what a bit of nostalgia does!


Chillies are a good source of Vitamin, A, B, C and E with minerals like molybdenum, manganese, folate, potassium, thiamin and copper. They reportedly contain seven times more vitamin C than orange. Ever since the chilli came to India at the end of the 15th century, it has been included in Ayurvedic medicines. Chillies are said to be good for slimming down but stimulate the appetite as well!

Christopher Columbus discovered chillies in the Caribbean in 1492 and called them peppers, thinking they were related to black pepper.

The correct spelling in English is chilli. The plural is chillies. It is etymologically derived via Spanish from the Nahuatl word for the plant. It has no connection with Chile.

Generally, fresh red chillies are 2-3 times hotter than green, and dried pods are 2-10 times hotter than fresh pods. However, the hottest can vary from plant to plant in the same field.

The fiery sensation is caused by capsaicin, a chemical that survives both cooking and freezing, but it also triggers the brain to produce endorphins, natural painkillers that promote a sense of well-being. The antidote to the heat is milk products, bread or chocolate. Water just spreads the burning around!

Wilbur Scoville in 1902 developed a method for measuring the strength of capsaicin in a chilli pepper, which originally meant tasting a diluted version of a pepper and giving it a value. Mild bell peppers rate at zero, jalapeño is mid range 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units, cayenne, aji and pequin 30,000 to 50,00 units, the habanero between 100,00 and 500,000 units. Apparently it can be measured by computer these days. (Recently, the Assamese variety called Bhut Jholakia was named as the hottest chilli.)

For more info, visit this site.

This is my submission for Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Kalyn's Kitchen this week.



  1. wow i ma the first to comment!!very neat presentation sra..loved the dish..mouth watering!!!

  2. I love hearing how this dish from your family now is one that you can create yourself. What a great story. I bet the small chillies are great in a dish like this. I prefer the taste of the small ones myself. Very interesting post!

  3. Hi Swapna, thank you thank you! You're one of the few who mentioned presentation on my blog. I must be improving!
    Thank you, Kalyn - I think the smaller the chilli, the bigger the punch it packs, generally speaking.

  4. LOL @ decapitating. Your g'ma is a veggie terrorist!HUH!!
    Looks great and HOT!!Lovely story.
    Thanks for the recipe and the PRESENTATION too!!HeHe!

  5. Great fiery entry Sra and lovely write up about how this dish is a part of your family.
    A new thing too as I have never tasted anything like this.
    "The Chilli of the Valley" :) very apt

  6. How difficult it is to stuff the chillies ?


  7. my mouth is watering.... lovely write up sra and thanks for chilli facts...

  8. Bee, I hope you're reading this - Blogger seems to have swallowed your comment when I clicked on 'publish'. Thanks for dropping by!
    Hope my mom is not reading this, Asha! Otherwise I've had it for having my gran called a terrorist, LOL! It's not too hot, really, if you manage to get all the seeds out. Thanks for the compliments - I know most are genuine but I HAVE been dropping hints the size of meteors, I suppose - thanks for humouring me and appreciating the presentation!
    Sandeepa, thank you. This is quite a common special dish in our family, if you know what I mean. Also, I checked out your aloo posto - would have commented on that but wasn't sure you'd notice on an old post - that's pretty much the way I make it!
    Shn, stuffing is not very difficult - the smoother the mixture, the easier it is. But if the cavity is small and the chillies are many, it takes a long time. Like it did for this recipe. But you can comfortably make it with capsicum too.
    Sia, what a coincidence! I just hopped back to my blog after leaving a comment on yours - we're both hot!

  9. Good info and hot dish. Viji

  10. SRA,Interesting Trivia abt chillies, liked your recipe too.

  11. Thank You, Viji, it's not too hot if you remove all the seeds.
    Lera, thanks. Try it if you have the time!

  12. Great hot dish, thanks for sharing the story. :)

  13. What beautiful pictures! I love this recipe and will be making it! It would be perfect for when my bell peppers from my garden are harvested. Thank you!

  14. Feeellling hot sra..i loved it.Thanks for the write up, had fun reading it.

  15. I could weep with gratitude for you saying the pix are beautiful, Sher! My brother said the prepared chillies looked disgusting and wormy!
    Thanks, Maheswari! Cool off with some pineapple, then!

  16. lol ok....those chilis just look scary....

    indian recipes

  17. did i miss this recipe...i ma chilli junkie you know...i posted some cillie side dished on my blog awhile back...thanks for sharing...gotta try it...

  18. Lovely post and great blog, sra.....

    Chillies are my favorite. Thanks for dropping by.....the pictures here look wonderful.

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