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
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!
CHILLI FACTS & TRIVIA (FROM THE INTERNET)
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.
Tags: Green chillies Capsicum/bell pepper Besan/Chick pea flour Vegan Weekend Herb Blogging Gluten-free