It’s time for stuffed chillies again!
Cooking continues to be very seasonal here in India. And I hope that tie-ups with global giants with their low-prices-everyday will not change this.
Seasonal changes are less perceptible in the urban landscape of most of India. The majestic Himalayas cast their wondrous spell only in the North and North-east and help keep most of India pretty warm year around. So, only a few of us see the changing seasons reflected in spring flowers, summer blooms, colourful autumns, and a white winter. If there are no summer flowers, then that is when our trees pull out all the stops. Who can compete with the Gulmohur or the Amaltas (Indian Laburnum) at the height of summer?
But all of us see the change in the seasonal availability of produce. The coastal areas, while probably seeing most vegetables year–round (where’s the fun in that!), get their fruits when ’tis the season. You can get gorgeous red apples and kiwis from New Zealand in the summer, but their exorbitant pricing restricts the clientele to ex-pats. Besides, who’s going to eat Rs200/kg apples when you can have mangoes for 40!! No competition there. And the mango season in Delhi is really long (Thank you, dear God) – starting in May with mangoes from the South (Totapuri -yuk- and Safeda – yum), to well into July when we finish off with the UP jewels, Dusseri and Langda.
But summer is far away. Let me get back to winter. Delhi is chilly – there has been snow in the mountains. All the watery squashes have made way for cabbages, cauliflowers, radishes, carrots, mustard, methi, bathua and the many other greens.
And chillies are having their own parade. There are the fiery slim and long ones (sorry, don’t have names), and then the ones that we wait eagerly for – the plump and fleshy ones – the achar ki mirch (pickling chillies). First they come in their green avatars and later in their red splendor – both are lovingly stuffed with spices and pickled in oil for the year ahead.
Maharashtrians also stuff these with besan to make an absolutely awesome accompaniment to an Indian meal. I generally prefer it served with a roti-subzi-dal combination and not rice. But that is just my preference.
The amounts are approximate because like most everyone I eye my chillies and then guesstimate the amount of ingredients I am likely to need. Any extra stuffing can be pressed into small fistfuls and steamed with the chillies towards the end of the cooking process. You can use any fleshy chillies that are medium-hot. In the US I used to use either Anaheim or jalapeño peppers!
12-18 fleshy green chillies such as jalapeños
1 ½ C besan (chickpea flour)
1 t salt
½ t turmeric
1 C chopped coriander (cilantro)
juice of half a lemon
¼ C + 2 t oil (or there-abouts)
1 t mustard seeds
pinch heeng (asafetida)
Wash, top, slit and de-seed the chillies. In a bowl combine the next five ingredients. The coriander and the lemon juice are all the moisture you need – no water. Now pour in sufficient oil so that the mixture holds its shape when pressed into a fist. This is not the place to go all low-fat now. Remember, you’ll probably have just one at any meal. The oil keeps the stuffing moist and crumbly; without that it will be hard and the chillies will be nothing to write home about.
Stuff the chillies with the mixture. Press any remaining stuffing into fists and keep aside. These come in handy to mix in and lessen the heat impact while eating, should the chillies turn out to be super hot.
Heat two teaspoons of oil in a heavy bottom pan. Add the mustard seeds and cover. After the mustard has done its spluttering, add the pinch of heeng, and then the stuffed chillies. Toss and cover with a lid onto which you can pour a little water (half a cup or so). I have yet to understand the principle behind this step, but I do it because my MIL did. Maybe someone can enlighten? Helps trap steam better? Provides additional heat from the top?
Cook at very low heat, for 12-15 min, tossing every few min. Add any stuffing-fists you may have kept aside and cover and cook another 4-5 min.
The chillies are best the day they are made but refrigerated will keep for a week in an air-tight container. All Maharashtrians must make these. And those of you who never have, well this is an absolute keeper of a recipe. They are easy enough to make, so go find out.