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Chillies: Understanding its charm and complexity

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Found in everywhere in vivid colours, the spicy ingredient adds an interesting character to any cuisine. But we just do not understand its sheer complexity. Sapna Sarfare helps you appreciate this fiery spice.

Just imagine our food without chillies. Most of us would gasp and think of just giving up on life. Chillies have become an intrinsic part of our cuisine. Yet we know so little about chillies. We should at least make an attempt to know the different varieties and the effect they can have on our food.

What an addition


With regards the importance of chillies in adding unique touch to any dish, Gopi Nandakumar, Executive Chef at Hyatt Regency Mumbai informs, “When chillies are added to the dish, your dish gets a flavour, spice and colour (depends on the type of chili used). These elements enhance the spice level of the dish.”

Chef Jagadish Purushothama of Academy of Pastry Arts speaks of the health benefits of chillies. “The chemical compounds in chillies are thought to have disease preventing and other healthy properties. When you go for fresh chilli peppers, the Vitamin C in it is vital for your body. They also have important minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium.”

Blunders while cooking

The trouble is when it comes to spices, we tend to make mistakes and create a horrendous dish worth the garbage bin. One of the blunders according to Chef Jagadish, is of just not allowing the chilli to be cooked long enough. “While quite a few recipes require chillies to be cooked quickly and that is good, it does contain the richness of flavour chillies, which has been cooking for some time. To bring out the flavours of great chillies and other ingredients, you need to cook it for a while.”

Chef Gopi feels an ingredient like chilli needs to be used carefully. “One has to keep in mind that the chillies are not only to make the food spicy, but also to get the flavour in the food. The chillies will not be mixed properly if added in the last. However, chilies are added as soon as the oil is done for a better result.”

Types of chillies

The variety of chillies seen around will probably blow your mind away. Chef Gopi reveals, “There are almost more than 2000 odd varieties of chilies with various level of spice in the world and this depends on the location they belong to. The hottest ones are the Thai chillies and the Mexican; however, these chillies are originated from Brazil. These are used in various ways for preparation in soups, salads, and main course mostly for marinating and for the sauces etc.”

Some of the popular varieties of chillies are mentioned by Chef Jagadish. “There are bell peppers, which are quite mild. While the green and orange ones are quite bitter, the red and yellow ones are sweet and tangy. Cayenne chillies that became global courtesy, Columbus chilli has a pungent taste and is found in Indian and Asian cuisine quite a lot. Popular in Mexico and USA, jalapenos have a thicker outer part that hides the pungent inside. The Jamaican hot chillies are also quite hot in taste. The popular paprika comes from capsicum annum and is extensively used in America, Spain, Hungary and other East European cuisines. This dried and grinded chilli is used as seasoning powder and has a pungent sweet-smelling aspect to it. Its taste ranges from mild to hot.  Spanish paprika or pimento chilli is a mild chilli and is often stuffed in green olives. Serrano chillies come from Mexico and go from dark green to scarlet red, brown, orange, and finally yellow upon ripen stage.”

Of course, the hottest chilli comes from India – Naga Jolokia, which comes from Tezpur, Assam. In fact, India can claim to be the world’s largest producer of chillies.

Popular chilli dishes

If there are ingredients, there will be dishes revolving around it. Chillies are no different. Chef Gopi says, “The most popular cuisine that contains spicy food is considered to be the Andhra food where the chilies play a prominent role in the preparation of the food.” Chilli pickles can be found in many Indian homes and is eaten with great relish. An interesting bhajiya is made with the bigger and less spicy variety of chillies.

It is hard to imagine any cuisine without chillies. Here’s to the spice of our food life!

LAAL MAAS

Ingredients

25 gms – small onions, finely chopped

25 gms – green chillies, finely chopped

50 gms – red chillies

25 gms – coriander seeds, whole

1 tbsp – jeera or cumin seeds

100 ml – mustard oil

50 gms – garlic cloves, finely chopped

25 gms – ginger, small piece finely chopped

1 kg – lamb with bones, cut into pieces

Salt to taste

50 gms – kachri powder

3-4 pods – cardamom

1 tsp – black pepper

1 – cinnamon stick

A little bit mace

1 pod – black cardamom

Water

A handful and chopped coriander

Method

Dry roast the red chillies to give it a nice distinctive aroma, which adds great flavor to the dish. Add to that the coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Once done, grind it into a nice fine powder. Heat some mustard oil in a pan. Add to this the garlic and ginger. Once the garlic turns slightly brown add the lamb pieces. Give it a good mix. This is also a good time to add salt. Now add the kachri powder. Not only does this powder tenderize the meat, it’s also adds a nice tangy flavour to it. Now add the chopped onions and mix all well. Once the onions have roasted well, add the whole spices, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, mace, black cardamom. Give all a good stir. Now add the red chili powder and let it roast for about a minute. Now add enough water to cook the lamb. Cover it and let it simmer for a couple of minutes till the meat is cooked. Once the meat is cooked, take out all the pieces on a platter and strain the gravy. Straining the gravy gets rid of all the whole spices and keeps the essence and flavors intact. Now add the lamb pieces you had taken out to the refined gravy and put it back on fire but on low heat. Add about a 1/2 cup water and some coriander leaves. Let it simmer for a while and when you reach a good consistency of gravy, turn off the heat. Serve hot garnished with chopped coriander and thinly sliced gingers.

  • Recipe Courtesy Chef Jagadish Purushothama, Academy of Pastry Arts

 

PLA RAD PRIK

Ingredients

150 gms – pomfret slices

20 gms – crushed bird eye chili

20 gms – chopped garlic

10 gms – basil leaves

Fish sauce to taste

5 ml – soy sauce

Sugar to taste

Oil to fry

Corn flour for dusting

Method

Remove the excess of water from fish and pat it dry. Dust with corn flour and fry it in hot oil, till it gets crispy. In a wok, add oil, chopped garlic, blended chili and sauté it till garlic and chili get cooked well and raw flavor goes. Add chicken stock and fish sauce. Add sugar and soy sauce and check for seasoning. The sauce has to be golden brown. Add corn flour to thicken the sauce. Add basil leaves before getting out of the fire. Add little oil to just glaze. Arrange the fish on a platter and pour the sauce on top and serve hot. Fry few basil leaves and place as a garnish.

  • Recipe Courtesy Chef Gopi Nandakumar, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency Mumbai