banana-tree-right banana-tree-left
A pumpkin like fruit with it’s first half covered in grey and the second half in yellow orange.Jogen Chowdhury, Fruit-I,
1977, Ink and pastel on paper,
MAC.01085

Capsicums: the edible globetrotters

Very rarely does one ingredient serve the idea of “eating the rainbow” all by itself. Red, yellow, green and orange capsicums are a common sight in India and deeply embedded in the culture, making it almost impossible to believe that they are not indigenous to the nation. Grown originally by the Aztecs 5000 years ago, the capsicum made its mark as world trade accelerated dramatically in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The most commonly accepted notion is that the Portuguese brought capsicum to India, along with potatoes, papaya, pineapple and cashews in circa 1497 C.E. But opulent cookbooks like Ni’matnama (the book of delights) started by the ruler of the Malwa Sultanate in central India in 1500 C.E makes no mention of capsicum, suggesting it had not yet become a mainstream ingredient in the country.

Under the British rule, capsicum rose to popularity. It was grown in abundance in the hill station of Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, the summer capital of British India. The hillslopes of Shimla, dressed in a green carpet of capsicums, gave the vegetable its Hindi name popular to this day- Shimla mirch. In Tamil Nadu, capsicum was deemed Kodai Mozhagai, meaning umbrella-like chilli. Whatever one may call it, the presence of capsicum in India is a delight and essential to countless preparations today.

Mankind, animal life and nature in the form of plant life are all bound to the rhythm of universal nature.” – Jogen Chowdhury

Jogen Chowdhury’s paintings are minimalistically outlined and highly textured, elements that stand out in this painting from 1977. The artist’s proclivity towards darker colours, such as black, perhaps harks back to memories of his early life in Kolkata as a refugee from the Partition. He remarks that “our plight, both physical and mental, must have also affected my use of colours.” The work could simply be a still life, yet it’s difficult to ignore the moment at which Chowdhury has chosen to capture the subject. His treatment of the skin of the pumpkin or bell pepper through the use of his signature cross-hatching technique seem to suggest signs of decay, but the retention of orange colour in the bottom half serves as a reminder of its vibrant nature. The artist has savoured what is remaining and inspires to find beauty in all things, old or new.

Capsicum chickpea flour by Radhika Poddar

“Personally, capsicum is not amongst my favourites, but this recipe is a huge success every time.”

List of ingredients

For 1 person
Time: 20 minutes

½ tablespoon Oil
1 Capsicum
Pinch of cumin seeds, carom powder and fennel seeds
Pinch of turmeric powder, red chilli powder, cilantro powder, mango (amchur) powder, Kitchen King powder, chaat masala and salt
½ tablespoon Roasted chickpea flour (besan)

Method

Roast a full green capsicum directly on the flame.

After it cools, peel off the burnt skin and cut into 1 inch size pieces.

Heat the oil, add cumin seeds, carom and fennel seeds, and cook for a minute.

Add the capsicum and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the turmeric powder, red chilli powder, cilantro powder, mango (amchur) powder, Kitchen King powder, chaat masala, salt and roasted chickpea flour (besan).

Cook till the capsicum is well coated with the spices and chickpea flour.

Serve hot.