banana-tree-right banana-tree-left
A woman in Rajasthani attire dancing at the center surrounded by lots of red chillies of her size.Madan Meena, चैत्र, Chetra, Barahmasa-I series,
2020, Silkscreen and natural pigments on paper,
MAC.03101

Chillies, harvest, seasons and its unconventional use

“The chilli plant, native to America, was introduced to India in the 17th century by the Portuguese and now its fruits have become an indispensable ingredient of Indian food.”

Portugese and British traders who entered India in search of spices had preconceived notions about chillies in India. However, later, they discovered the diuretic and digestive properties of chillies and so chillies were not only used in chutneys and sauces but also in sweet/sour dishes like the recipes that you see from MAP’s team. In the second recipe below, the curd rice is usually the last course and cools/soothes the palate and the stomach after the spices that have gone before. The sight whisper of chilli in the tempering gives this otherwise mild preparation a dash of excitement. Similarly, in the tomato khejur chutney and paani puri, the chilli highlights this wild contrast of flavours – sweet, sour and hot.

Furthermore, seasons play an important role in determining when chillies are grown. In Northern India, chillies are sown in the winter season, but in South India, a major producer of chillies, they are harvested most of the year because chillies prefer well drained soil and rainfall.

From contemporary artist Madan Meena’s Barahmasa-I series, this artwork depicts a woman dancing at the centre of red chillies, perhaps, perfectly laid out on a rooftop to be dried. In Rajasthan, the part of West India that Meena belongs to, the summer months of March-April (chetra) dry chillies quickly. Women celebrate by dancing and singing tales of chilli harvest.

Tomato khejur chutney by Paromita Dasgupta

“In a Bengali household, no meal is complete without serving this version of tomato chutney. It is usually served during lunch and is a favourite. The sweet taste mixed with the rich flavor of dry fruits such as cashews, dates and raisins can leave you wanting for more. I have fond memories of this when I got back home from boarding school for the summer.”

List of ingredients

For 4-5 people
Time: 20-25 minutes

5-6 Tomatoes
3 Dried red chillies
1 small Ginger (grated)
Sugar (as per your taste)
Salt (as per your taste)
1 tablespoon Dates
2 tablespoons Cashews (slit)
2 tablespoons Raisins
1 teaspoon Radhuni (wild celery seeds) / Panch phoron (Bengali mix of 5 spices) / Mustard seeds
2 tablespoons Mustard oil

Method

Deseed the tomatoes and boil them for about 5 minutes. This helps in easy peeling of the tomatoes. Keep aside the pulp and the stock.

In a kadhai (wok), pour 2 tablespoons of mustard oil. Let the mustard oil begin to smoke in a low flame.

Once the oil begins to smoke, add a teaspoon of radhuni / panch phoron / mustard seeds.

Add the dried red chillies. Fry for a few seconds till the spices crackle and become aromatic.

Add the grated ginger. Sauté it till the raw smell of ginger goes away. Don’t brown the ginger.

Add the tomato pulp and stock. Mix well.

Add salt and mix well.

Cover the kadhai and let it cook for a few moments before it becomes mushy.

Add the dry fruits (raisins, cashews and dates) and mix well.

Add sugar to taste and mix well.

Cook until the chutney thickens. Add water if the tomatoes begin to stick.

Serve it at room temperature. Leftovers can be stored for 3-4 days.

Andhra style curd rice by Vaishnavi Kambadur

“This is my mother’s recipe, she learnt it from her mother-in-law, my grandmother. My mother’s been cooking it for 35 years and my grandmother for 70 years. Although my grandmother moved from Andhra and my mother from Karnataka to Delhi, their recipes have nostalgia attached to it. They would make this curd rice for me in the summer, to cool off from the heat. The tempering in this recipe can be used to cook other recipes with meat, vegetables and lemon rice too.”

List of ingredients

For 1 person
Time: 30 minutes

1 cup White rice
Salt (as per your taste)
Home made curd (to be made a few hours in advance so that it sets)

Tempering:
4 teaspoon Vegetable oil
2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
1 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Chana daal
1 teaspoon Urad daal
3-4 Cashew nuts
¼ inch of Ginger
Pinch of Asafoetida
10 Curry leaves
4-5 Dry red chillies (my grandma adds lots of red chillies as she has more spice tolerance)

A handful of chopped coriander leaves (for garnish)

Method

Wash rice well and cook it in a pressure cooker. The ratio for cooking rice is 1:2.5 (rice: water). Put a few more tablespoons of water so that the rice becomes soft. If you’re using a pressure cooker, let the rice cook for an extra whistle. Let it cool after it cooks.

Take a big steel plate, add the rice and a pinch of salt. Keep adding curd and mix it with your hand till the quantity of curd is just a little more than rice.

Take a mortar pestle and crush the peeled ginger.

Break all the red dried chillies in two halves and cut pieces of dry cashew nuts.

Poopu (Telugu for tempering):

Use a tempering utensil and heat it with oil before adding the ingredients.

To test the temperature, add some cumin seeds. If the seeds mildly crackle, you’re ready to add mustard seeds, urad daal, chana daal, cashew pieces, curry leaves, asafoetida/ hing, crushed ginger and dry chillies. Make sure that everything is dry. The tempering has to evenly heat every ingredient – my mother and grandmother use their intuition to achieve this.

Take the tempered ingredients and add it to the plate with the mixture of curd and rice.

Finally, add more salt and coriander garnish before serving.

Most of the recipe involves using our hands to cut, mix and crush.

Paani Poori by Kavita Jhunjhunwala

“An old song wafts into a crevice of the heart, the tilting and lifting voice teases with “maile mein le chaal sajana, maile meh maile meh….” – a lusty song of welcome seduction where the free spirited woman asks her lover to take her to the village fair. Apart from the burst of colors, the chaats at the fair belong to many sepia-tinted memories. Of stolen looks, and inelegant stances when you ate the paani pooris with your dress tucked between your legs. The shocked look when you got to know how many you had devoured and yet wanted more. Pretty much like life. Decades later, the song still plays. And the taste of paani pooris linger forever, much like memories. Much like the dancing gypsies at the fair, much like colour, sometimes so overwhelming, that years of memories flash by like the spicy tang of chillies.”

List of ingredients

For 3-4 people
Time: 40 minutes (plus overnight soak time)

Pooris (Paperboat has the ready-to-fry at home ones)

For the filling:

3 Potatoes (boiled)
75 gm of Lal chana (soaked overnight and boiled)
Lemon juice (1 lemon)
A small bunch of fresh coriander leaves (finely chopped)
½ teaspoon Cumin seeds (ground)
½ teaspoon Black salt
½ teaspoon Red chilli powder

For the water:

1 small tennis size Tamarind ball (soaked and boiled)
½ glass of Cold water (can also use ice)
Lemon juice (2 lemons)
½ teaspoon Cumin seeds (ground)
½ teaspoon Black salt
½ teaspoon Red chilli powder
½ teaspoon of Chaat masala
½ teaspoon of Jaggery or sugar
1 (or as per your taste) Green chilli (finely ground)

Method

Fry the pooris. Or take the shortcut (I won’t tell anyone) and get them from the store.

Mix all the ingredients of the filling preferably by hand. Keep aside for a bit for all the flavours to sink in.

For the water, mix everything together. Refrigerate. Garnish with coriander if you like.

Tips:

For the water, I experiment with raw mangoes when in season.

Instead of the water, you can also make this with curd and all the same masalas except the lemon of course.

Personal favorite:

I skip the filling all together and just enjoy them with a variation of the dipping water. The feeling of being at the fair, the inelegance of eating paani pooris is probably the best way of bringing back many fading memories. Enjoy!