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029: The Case of the Missing Red Chilli Powder (Herbs & Spices #8)

Lal Mirch (Red chilli powder) Part 3

Yayavr Spice Series

Imagine my surprise when I opened up the cupboards and found not a trace of red chilli powder in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. There was a bottle of whole dried red chillies that she used for tempering, but no powder anywhere.

We had just gotten married and I wanted to make my childhood favourite bharwa bhindi. The masala for the okra stuffing follows the often heard culinary rhyme of my mother’s kitchen "namak-mirchi-haldi-dhaniya". Most of her traditional marwari recipes for cooked vegetables use salt, red chilli powder, turmeric powder and coarsely ground coriander seed powder, along with hing. How could I make my beloved bhindi without that fiery red chilli powder? Perplexed, I called up my mother and dunzo-ed over a bottle of her stash from Prem Provisions (see my previous post). I stored that bottle of hot redness along with the other condiments and spices that were used only by me in the kitchen - ground methi powder for Kerala kachimooru, oregano and red chilli flakes for pasta, and cinnamon powder for french toasts.

Over the course of the first few years of marriage, I became familiar with my mother-in-law’s two favourite masalas. The first her slow-roasted dhaniya-kharam pudi, and the second her home-made kick ass sambar powder. It was in these refurbished D-Protein bottles that the potent red chilli powder was hiding.

My mother-in-law goes a step further than my sanjeevani-seeking, Ibrahim-Sahib-Street visiting mother. She roasts and grinds her chillies at home, filling up the entire house with their smoky, fiery fragrance. This tedious process ensures that the masalas at home are free of any common adulterants (such as red brick powder and sand), and that the flavours are notched up thousand-fold. I have to admit it though, I am not sure if I would have the patience to roast and grind my spices at home. But while she still has the energy and enthusiasm, I am not going to turn down the delectables taste of those red chillies.

For the dhaniya-kharam pudi, she combines powdered mankatti chillies with roasted coriander seeds in a 2:1 ratio. And for her sambar pudi, she adds whole coriander seeds, whole black round pepper, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, hing, toor dal, urad dal, and curry leaves to make an earthy, comforting and spicy blend.

At the time of my marriage, I had not even heard of the different varieties of chillies that we use across India. I am slowly working my way through the long list. My mother uses byadagi, kashmiri and my favourite - that stout, round salem gundu chilli to sit atop her creamy curd rice. My mother-in-law uses mankatti chillies for her pudis and byadagi chillies for her pickles. I probably need a thousand life-times to cook with and taste all the variations of chilli used across our country.

What chillies and peppers do you use in your kitchen?


Abhishek Hajare (Unsplash)

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