Green and Red Chilli Curry - Mirchi Ka Salan

by Atul Kochhar from 30 Minute Curries (Absolute Press)

Photography: Mike Cooper


I love this recipe and have cooked it many times. It’s one of the recipes in this book that transports me back to my early days of cooking. It comes from the Hyderabad region, where green chillies are a favourite ingredient. Salan is the word from the region for curry. Basically, anything with a sauce will be called salan.

I’ve used the Dutch chillies you find in supermarkets in this recipe, more for their flavours and colours than for heat. You might be tempted to use hotter chillies, but I seriously don’t recommend it; they are just so wrong for this dish. If you happen to be a person who doesn’t like chillies, you can also make this dish with its tangy gravy, substituting courgettes or just about any vegetable for the chillies.


SERVES 4 AS A SHARING DISH



Ingredients


1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus extra for frying the chillies

¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds

¼ teaspoon onion seeds

3 tablespoons Onion Paste (see below)

½ teaspoon red chilli powder, or to taste

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

150ml Tamarind Liquid (see below)

15g piece of jaggery or palm sugar

250ml water

6 long thick green chillies

6 long thick red chillies

6 fresh or dried curry leaves

sea salt


For the spice and nut powder

50g blanched almonds

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1½ teaspoons white poppy seeds (or Nigel says use 1 tsp of black poppy seeds)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds



Method

Assemble all the ingredients before you begin. You need a non-stick pan for toasting the nuts, seeds and coconut and frying the chillies, a spice grinder, a large sauté or frying pan with a lid, a splatter guard and tongs or a slotted spoon.


First make the spice and nut powder. Heat the dry non-stick pan over a low heat. Add the almonds, sesame seeds, coconut and coriander, poppy and cumin seeds, and stir until the coconut turns light golden brown and the spices are aromatic. Watch closely so the almonds and coconut do not burn. Transfer all the ingredients to the spice grinder and blitz until a fine powder forms. Set aside. Wipe out the pan and set aside.


Heat the oil over a medium-high heat in the sauté pan. Add the fenugreek seeds and fry, stirring, until they turn darker. Add the onion seeds and stir until they pop. Add the onion paste and stir it into the oil for 30 seconds. Add the chilli powder and turmeric, season with salt and stir for a further 30 seconds to cook the spices. Watch closely so they do not burn.


Stir in the tamarind liquid, scraping the bottom of the pan. Coarsely chop the jaggery, then add it to the pan with the water, stirring to dissolve the jaggery. Stir in the spice and nut powder, then leave the gravy to simmer and thicken while you prepare and fry the chillies.


Slice each of the chillies in half lengthways, but leave the stalks attached so they remain whole.


Heat enough vegetable oil over a medium heat to thinly cover the bottom of the non-stick pan you used for toasting the ingredients for the spice and nut powder. Add the green and red chillies with a pinch of salt, cover the pan with the splatter guard and fry, turning the chillies over with the tongs once for even cooking, for 5 minutes, or until they are just tender, but not falling apart.


Use the tongs to transfer the chillies to the gravy as they are fried, shaking off any excess oil. Stir in the curry leaves, making sure the gravy goes into the chillies’ cavities. Cover the pan and leave to gently boil for 5 minutes, or until the chillies are softened. Adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary.


To serve, transfer the chillies to a dish and spoon the gravy over.


Onion Paste


MAKES ABOUT 600G

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

500g onions, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

100g (about 6 tablespoons) Ginger-Garlic Paste (made by mixing together, ideally in a processor, 50g of peeled garlic cloves with 50g of peeled & chopped fresh ginger with a tablespoon of water, until it forms a paste)



Heat the oil over a medium-high heat in a large sauté or frying pan that is ideally non-stick. Add the onions, the ginger-garlic paste and salt, and stir frequently for 25 minutes, or until the onions are browned. Watch carefully towards the end of cooking so the mixture doesn’t catch and burn, which can happen very quickly. If they do burn, you’ll have to throw them out and start over – there isn’t any way to rescue them.


Transfer the mixture to a food processor while it’s still warm and blitz to a fine paste. Leave to cool completely, then store in a covered container in the fridge for up to 4 weeks, or freeze for up to 3 months.


Tamarind Liquid

Tamarind is used as a tangy souring agent in Indian cookery. The flavour is derived from the pods of the tamarind tree. These are sold as seedless, dried compressed blocks. This pulp needs to be soaked in hot water before use. Ready-made tamarind paste is available, but it is often salty and I think it is better to make your own.


Break up the specified weight of pulp and soak in hot water to cover for about 20 minutes to soften, using your fingers to mix the pods with the water – the tamarind paste will become thicker. Strain through a sieve into a bowl, pressing to extract as much flavour as possible. The proportion of liquid to tamarind pulp varies according to the intensity of flavour required. Allow 400ml water per 200g block. The extracted juice can be stored in the fridge for 2–3 weeks, or frozen and diluted as required.




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