It is fair to say that Indian food is dependent on chillies to a large extent. Not always for its characteristic spice but also for the unique flavour that it lends. The quintessential South Indian Rassam, the Maharashtrian Thecha, the Rajasthani Laal Maas, the simple tadka on your daal and the many piquant chutneys and pickles wouldn’t be the same without chillies. We spoke to two TV hosts-cum-chefs about the chillies that they swear by:
1. Bhavnagari Mirch: Chef and TV host Ajay Chopra likens these fat red chillies to the cherry red peppers that are internationally popular. Bhavnagari chillies are quite mild, almost not pungent. “Bhavnagari Mirch aka The Pickle Chilli is most commonly used to make Indian chillies as it is non-pungent, but the versatility of the Bhavnagari Mirch is that I have used it to make smoothies and desserts (makes a delicious panacotta) as well apart from pickles and salads,” says Chopra.
Common uses: The flesh of this chilli is almost sweet, succulent and aromatic, making them perfect as a stuffing to make appetisers and pickles. These chillies are slit through the middle and the seeds are removed, then you can stuff them with an ingredient of your choice and finally deep-fry them.
2. Mathania: The ubiquitous, yet beautifully-shaped red chillies from Jodhpur are pungent, sharp and flavoursome. Chopra describes the after-taste of this chilli “as a fun kick that swirls in your mouth, but doesn’t burn your gut.” This chilli is exported in large quantities to Arab countries and plays an important role in Rajasthani and Arab and Middle-Eastern cuisine.
Common uses: This is the chilli that is used to make the popular Laal Maas and other popular Marwari dishes. It is mostly sold as a dry spice and lends pungency, colour and body to a dish.
3. Ghost Chilli: Also called Bhut Jolokia, this chilli is not for the faint of heart. Native to the North-Eastern region of India, this chilli has often wrestled with other chillies to be in the top three among the hottest chillies in the world, hitting as high as one million Scoville heat units, the unit by which a chilli’s hotness is measured.
Common uses: This spicy chilli can be used fresh or in its dried form (always wear gloves when handling this chilli) in curries, pickles and chutneys. It lends well in meat preparations, especially with pork, beef and fish.
4. Guntur Sannam: “This popular chilli from Andhra Pradesh is high on the heat quotient and definitely packs a spicy punch. I powder it myself at home and use it in South Indian dishes in different proportions to add hotness to a dish,” shares chef and TV host Pankaj Bhadouria. The Sannam chillies have thick red skin and are fiery. The smaller the chilli, the spicier it is, while the bigger chillies render exquisite flavour to any dish.
Common uses: Bhadouria points out that this chilli is used in the likes of rassams and chicken chettinads, besides being a prevalent ingredient in local Andhra cuisine.
5. Kashmiri Laal Mirch: This chilli is one of the most common, yet loved chillies of India. The Kashmiri red chilli is known more for its colour than its spice quotient. It is extremely mild and mostly used in its powdered form or as whole dried chillies.
Common uses: Both Chopra and Bhadouria admit to love this chilli as it lends perfectly to all Indian dishes and enhances their taste and leaks a robust red hue to the food. Bhadouria uses this chilli as a marinade for meats, while Chopra adds that this chilli is perfect for curries and gravies, like the Shahi gravies. The dried chillies can be used for tempering as well, for lentils, rice preparations, among other things.
6. Bihari Hari Mirch: Fresh and slender, the spice quotient of this chilli is manageable, and when paired with meals—they can be munched on for their light flavour.
Common uses: “This hari mirch can be puréed for chutneys, thrown into Indian sabzis and pakoras, or eaten raw as a condiment with your vada pav to add heat to your snack,” says Chopra.
7. Bedki: Hailing from Maharashtra, “the bedki chilli is rich in aroma and can be used when it is fresh and green, or when it is bright red and dried, and sometimes powdered. I use this chilli for all kinds of pickles—mango, lemon, mixed vegetable—and it always lends an interesting flavour,” says Bhadouria.
Common uses: This chilli is used to make the spicy condiment Thetcha that can set your tongue on fire, while the whole red chilies are used in curries and rice preparations and are more soothing on the palate.
8. Dhani: These chillies are predominantly grown in North-East Indian states. These Indian chillies are thin and pointy, and are, on average, about an inch long, making them one of the smallest chillies in the world. But don’t be deceived by its size, because these chillies are pungent and are sure to make your mouth and tongue wanting relief.
Common uses: “These chillies are like the Thai chillies—excellent for stir-fries and you can make a paste of these chillies and add it in when you are making a Thai curry,” suggests Bhadouria. Typically, these chillies are green or red, and is used in the local cuisine and goes well when added to noodles, rice, meats and vegetables. They are also used to make pickles and chutneys and no more than half a teaspoon is eaten at time because this chilli is that spicy.
Photographs courtesy: Shutterstock
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