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January 2006

Red Hot Chilli Peppers-Part 1

 


It's Pouring Chillies"

A dear friend, who shall remain unnamed, is a dentist. He is very popular among his patients , who sometimes wait months just so he will take them on. At one time he lived in London where his waiting room was always full and his patients, patient.

Even at that time he made a point of working only 4 days a week. Always hospitable and a real foodie he would invite friends over just to share his food.I still recall him at the beginning of his cooking sessions. Wife and sons and friends would sit around the kitchen drinking wine to watch the the "master' at work.

He began by putting on surgical gloves. Thinking this was an odd way of carrying on his working life home with him, several newbies to the scene watched open mouthed. Half way through the proceedings most people realised the reason for the gloves. He would plunge his hand into a huge pot of red chilli powder and slather fish or chicken with fistfuls of the stuff.

" Can't have my patients gagging on me tomorrow morning", he said.

As everyone knows, the smell of onions, garlic and chillies lingers on , and on..and on

Coming from Andhra Pradesh his cuisine was the hottest I had ever tasted. Even if he had 20 people for lunch there was always enough left over. Tears streaming down their faces, guests would manage to eat just a mouthful and his Scots wife always stuck firmly to her own productions.The only others who joined him in heartfelt delight were people from the same state. Now I know they were hooked on the hot stuff.

Endorphins are released into the body when the brain responds to capsaicin, a chemical contained in the capsicum pod which causes them to be hot. When eaten the chemical which flows throught the veins of the capsicum pod is released into the mouth where nerve endings set off an alarm in the brain. The brain is conned into thinking the body is in distress and pain and immediately opens the sluice gates. The mouth and eyes water, the heartbeat increases, the nose begins to drip and the head perspires.

Most people in the grip of a chili high will express their satisfaction with an 'aaah' or an 'oooh' in a tone which is a cross between wonder and horror. An hour at the gym might give you the same high for a lot more effort.

I think eating chillies is seen to be a manly thing to do.Which is why they have names indicating that guts are required to ingest them. In India lots of hybrids have names like Sizzler, Firecracker,Torpedo, DaggerPod, Cobra etc etc, Perhaps salsa and chilli sauces have the same connotations of machoness ? I mean 'Death Sauce' ?' Radioactive-Atomic' pepper sauce ?

The heat of a chili is measured in Scoville Heat Units or SHU and capsicum ranges from 0 SHU ( Simla Mirch or Bell Peppers) to approximately 1000,000 SHU, the latter from a chilli called the Bhoot Jholakia (ghost chilli) or Raja Jholakia grown in Assam and Nagaland. It must be so hot as to shock the system and turn the eater into a "ghost". Since capsicum comes from the same family as the nightshade, a poisonous plant, I expect some of them are capable of killing.

For some time now I have been tracking the variety of chillies used in different regional cuisines and have identified several of them, just so that I can ask for them by name, to use in different dishes. Used in the right proportions, red chilli can enhance the taste of various ingredients. Too much and you can end up with mouth numbing food which, come to think of it, might be useful when you have a culinary disaster and a bunch of hungry people on hand.

Every state in India has its own special favourite but many chillies have become commonly accepted all over the country and are found in almost every mandi./ market.


Kashmiri

The Kashmiri Mirchi is available in most general stores and is widely used for its colour.It is a deep maroon and is not very hot . One can always throw in a few more into a curry without noticeable effect. The sight of red chillies drying in the sun on the rooftops of thatched huts in Kashmir is a common one, and the flame of colour amidst the surrounding beige of the cropped and harvested rice fields is one that stays with me.


Bedgi

Another fairly common variety is the Bedgi of Byadagi chili which comes from the Hubli district in Karnataka. This looks wrinkled and shrivelled up, and had a deep red colour. It is a mild chilli. About 30,000 SHU .I love its smoky flavour which melts into a kind os sweetness when bitten into. Great as a vagar on Toor dal.


Titimiti

In a Goan curry one tends to use 70% bedgi and 30% Titimiti chillies.Titimiti is the Konkani name for these chillies and they are generally only available in Goa.They are a bright orange red , about an 1.5 " in length . They are responsible for the colour and taste of a true Goan prawn curry but are also used for a pork or chicken roast.


Aldona Double

Another nice Goan chilli is the black red Aldona mirchi of which there are two varieties , one double the width of the other, which is also used in roasts. Goan cuisine has many different varieties of chillies perhaps because of Portuguese influences.One chilli is actually called Portuguese chilli. The Konkani name is Tarvati.

Tarvati

A slim long chilli of about three inches in length it is also used in local dishes very often.

Maria Lobo ( at Fatima General Stores and Cold Storage , 834 Dastur Meher Road, Camp, Pune) makes a mouthwatering Vindaloo masala for her own use from Aldona, Kashmiri, Bedgi and Titimiti chillies which she brings from Goa. Ground to a powder which she adds to garam masala , ginger and garlic and Goa toddy vinegar, it makes a wonderful base for a pork or chicken curry as well as a Sorpotel. Rechead is basically the same red mirchi masala with the addition of an onion and sugar paste.

Sankeshwari

In Maharashtra, the Sankeshwari mirchi is used most commonly to make chilli powder, and along with the Bedgi and Kashmiri are about the only dried red chillies to be found in the market here. All of them are fairly mild ( except for the Sankeshwari) , which is a way of telling that Maharashtrian cuisine is not known for its heat levels. Sankeshwar being close to Kolhapur , plus the addition of the lavangi mirchi, is probably a reason why Kolhapuri food was always much much hotter than Pune food! Sankeshwari chilly has a bright orange colour and local people use this powder fairly generously when short of other expensive masalas.


Double Resham Patti

I got hold of some Double Resham Patti chillies recently.They are mild and are wonderful for stuffing for achaar.This is well known in the North and some friends use it in Thai dishes as it approximates Thai chiilies.

Guntur or Andhra Chillies are obviously hot and are grown in Warangal, Khamam and Guntur disricts of Andhra Pradesh. They are popular outside the state in other cuisines as well for their aroma and heat level. And India being the largest exporter of chillies they are obviously popular elsewhere. Here is a hot recipe for Guntur chillies with Mango -

Mango Mirch Masala

Ingredients:

  • 6 mangoes,Banganpalli or Imam Pasand

  • 4 tsps Gur /Jaggery

  • 1 tsp salt

.

Grind the following ingredients:

  • 1 tsp rai /mustard seed

  • 1/4 tsp haldi / turmeric

  • 4 cloves of garlic

  • 1 pepper corn

  • 10 Guntur red chillies

  • 1/2 onion

Seasoning:

  • 1/2 tsp coconut oil

  • 1 tsp mustard seeds

  • 4 cloves of garlic , mashed in a mortar.
  • Wash and peel the mangoes.Lightly mash them leaving some flesh on the seeds.

    Add the ground paste to the mangoes. Bring to the boil and let the mixture cook on medium heat till the mangoes are well done. About 20 minutes. Remove the seeds from the dish and set aside.. Heat coconut oil and fry the mustard seeds and garlic. As the mustard seeds pop and the garlic become slightly golden, pour over the mango chilli mixture. Serve hot with brown rice.
    ..................................................................................................................................

    More about chillies will be posted soon as there are so many more different varieties from this part of the world a nd I can't possibly cover them all here.

    Now here's a contest.

    Mystery mirchi

    Can anyone tell me the name of this midget of a mirchi.

    Size of Mystery Mirchi

    It is about 1 cm in length and varies in colour from red to ecru when dried.It is used in chewda's and snacks and it is very,very hot.
    The winner will receive a bottle of the hottest pickle ever. An Andhra pickle ofcourse.

    More hullaballoo in the chilli fields...


Green Tomato Chutney

 


Mapusa Market, Goa

Friday is market day in Mapusa, a small town in the heart of Bardez district in Goa. It's madness there, picking your way through cauliflowers, cabbage, and beans of all kind. And baby clothes, plastic tablecloths and small wooded stools. And 'antiques', bedcovers and herbal medicines. Plus the tribal women from Karnataka, women with their mirror worked cloth bags waiting to make a killing on some unsuspecting soul, who is most likely to be an Indian tourist. It's amazing how European and British tourists learn, in two days flat, how to drive a hard bargain. It is more difficult to extract a 1 rupee coin out of a backpacker's pocket than to perform dental surgery. So the tribal women are in for some more rude shocks during the day.

Meanwhile we enjoy the riot of colour, the smells of dried fish and spices, the goan sausages and papayas and the sounds of a thousand voices in Konkani .
Since I'm into low calorie and vegetarian recipes right now I see the vegetables more than anything else. Tomatoes are all over the place. Green tomatoes particularly caught my eye. I never seem to get them when I want them. Some Portuguese recipes  and, by association, Goan ones too call for tomate verde ( let me clarify, these are not Tomatillos ). Right now In Maharashtra, the tomatoes have been harvested and are a brillant red. Just right for puree but not for chutney. Here is one of my favourite green tomato chutney recipes.



Green Tomatoes, Mapusa, Goa

Ingredients:

2 apples
1 kg green tomatoes
1/4 kg sambar onions (shallots)
1 clove garlic, crushed
150 gm kismis / raisins
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
400 ml / 2 full cups malt vinegar
175 gms brown demerara sugar or half brown sugar and half jaggery

Peel the apples, remove the core and chop into pieces.Make fine slices from the tomatoes. Chop the shallots .

In a pressure cooker put layers of tomato slices, apples and onions. Add the garlic, raisins, salt , ginger, chilli powder, and half the vinegar.Close cooker and put on the weight. Cook for 10 minutes after first whistle.Take off the fire and bring pressure down by holding the cooker under a running tap.Open the cooker, stir in the gur and brown sugar and the rest of the vinegarMix well..Now let the mixture simmer in the open cooker till the chutney thickens. Stir often to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the cooker.When the chutney is the right consistency and fairly thick, take off fire and fill sterilized jars with the mixture upto 1/2 inch from the top. Cover jars whiile still hot.
Keep refrigerated after opening.
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This is quick to make, a lovely accompaniment to any Indian dish, yummy with roti and good with any meat dish, Indian or Western.

Another green tomato recipe


Sweets for my sweet, Sugar for my Honey- All about Gur things

 


Sugarcane fields

Travelling in the Kolhapur district it is a pleasure to see such rich land all around . This is sugarcane area and every other field is tall with sugarcane ripening in the warm sun.The plateau is covered in a sort of mist which I soon discover is the smoke from bagasse fires, as sugar cane juice is being churned in huge iron vats to make rab a thickened syrup.


Bagasse

The bagasse is what is left after the cane has been mangled in a rotary press to remove all the juice. This is carried and spread out around the small rural processing plants, to dry in the sun . When it is dry it is fed into the boiler which is constructed under the vat .


Sayaji

Sayaji Pawar owns a couple of acres of land in Vahagaon which is in Karad Taluka. Vahagaon is also famous for its Bhairavnath Temple. Being near the Krishna River, Sayaji's lands get plenty of water and the cane fields look healthy. He also owns a jaggery processing plant. Making jaggery is as simple a process now, as it was hundreds of years ago.Sugarcane has grown In India since the time of the Indus Valley Civilization, four thousand years ago. The extracted juice was strained, boiled and treated with Hibiscus plant stems , or the bark of semul , Salamalia malabarica and phalsa, Grewia Arabica trees as well as treated with sodium bicarbonate, alum and limed water.With a few changes in the additives, the same thing is done today. The whole process from start to finish takes about 4 hours.


Chimney and boiler of gur plant

I ask Sayaji why he doesn't supply the cane from his lands to the sugar factory close by.

He says "They do not pay everything up front. First they give two thirds of the money, then make us wait for 3 months more and pay the rest.Why should I wait ? Making gur is much better. I get my money as soon as I take it to market in Karad, 7 kms away."

He is happy with his independence from the factories as are several other farmers who process their own cane into gur for which there is still a huge market. Most food in India calls for a bit of gur in dal / lentils or sabzi/vegetable dish.Gujarati, Maharashtrian,Rajasthani and several other regional cuisines cannot do without it. And many sweet snacks like chikki / a brittle made of puffed rice, sesame seeds, nuts etc mainly use gur.


Filling boiler with bagasse

Khand or khandsari , a type of raw light brown to white sugar can also be made from the rab. Now this is done through a centrifugal system . Formerly the boiling molasses was strained with water poured through seaweed. This served to wash the molasses off and the material immediately below the weeds was removed and formed "khand" or "khandsari". India had always exported khand.


Boiling and Churning Rab

There are records of khand being sent to America in 1750 and to Britain in 1789. The latter then figured out, khand could be used to make sugar crystals which would work out a lot cheaper than importing sugar from the West Indies. Initially raw sugar was sent to Britain as ballast in ships!

For years raw sugar was known by different names and came in different forms. Shakkar, also known as bura are gur crystals, that is, unrefined but well drained of molasses.It is used a lot in the North for tea and coffee.Shakkhar is also the word for sugar in Marathi and this led to some confusion.I was under the mistaken impression that I could get that same brown sugar which I used in Punjab, in Pune as well. No such luck. Shakkar is unknown in Maharashtra except as refined crystallized white sugar. Misri and chini, are almost white sugar crystals made from further refining khand by the weed and water process.And kuza khand are the large white crystals, also made by the same process sometimes offered with saunf fennel seeds, as a mouth freshener after a meal.



Pit for cooling Rab

Rab , or sieved, cleaned, boiled and thickened juice, is poured into a shallow pit lined with thick plates . It is shoveled about with spades till it cools and forms a kind of thick paste.



Buckets of setting Gur

This is then poured into muslin lined buckets or vats and within 2 hours these have cooled and formed neat and large, hardened, mounds of gur, about 30 kg in weight, which can easily be removed from the vat.



Gur ready for Market

Then its off to market where people buy it in amounts of up to a kilo or less.

Gur is graded according to sucrose content, shape (Bheli, Chakki or Laddoo) texture ( grainy which is known as Rawedar or Danedar or smooth which is known as Chikna.)

Unrefined sugars like gur contain essential minerals such as magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, calcium as well as tiny amounts of fluorine and selenium. Altogether much healthier than refined sugar. Besides that , is also has a taste of its own , not just sweetness.

Makar Sankranti  occured during our trip, a day when til (sesame) and gur laddoos /jaggery balls, are exchanged in Maharashtra . The saying, when feeding each other sweets like this, is- " Til Gur ghya, god bola" a literal translation of which would be "take this sweet and speak sweetly". Actually it signifies forgiveness , when bad words and ill will towards anyone is  forgotten. Since gur and til "stick together"  it is offered during the festival...to remind people and communities to stick together, and remain undivided in their goodwill to all.

Makar Sankranti is also a harvest festival to give thanks to the forces of nature for providing so much.

Instead of making laddoos I make a chikki at home with gur. Instead of sesame seeds you could try other dried fruit, nuts, peanuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds or even puffed grains like wheat or rice. Any cereal or muesli mix tastes good with gur too.

Chikki/ Sesame seed Brittle

Ingredients:

250 gms sesame seeds
200 gms gur/ jaggery
1/2 cup water

Grease a 8" X 5" baking tray and keep aside.

Roast sesame seeds very lightly. Grate the gur/ jaggery. Add the water to the gur and heat the mixture on a low flame. When the mixture starts thickening check it frequently by dropping a bit on a plate.When it congeals almost immediately, the jaggery is ready. Add the sesame seeds and mix quickly. Pour immediately onto the prepared tray. Make indentations of about 1" square across the brittle while it is still warm. When cold, break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

For more sweets with gur click here.