Dubai: When you order in Indian food, be it a biryani, kadahi chicken or a simple dal tadka, do you often request – “Could you please make it less spicy”, or do you say – “Please make it extra spicy”?
Like it or not, the Indian food you crave is usually seen as bereft without chillies by many.
There are nearly 18 different varieties of chillies in India, each with a distinct taste, used in different kinds of food preparations – as a garnish, to make pickles, in tempering or just eaten on the side, with meals or snacks.
According to the Spice Board of India, there are eight major chilli producing states – Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir. Each region has its unique chilly flavour and a distinct taste. Some look fiery but are not, whereas some are tiny and super-hot. From the many different kinds of Indian regional chillies, Gulf News Food Team picked four, each with a unique tale and flavour, that the culinary world is in love with. Here they are:
1. Bhut Jholokia from the northeast of India
One of the spiciest chillies from the North Eastern state of India – Assam, is bhut jholokia. It has a distinct aroma, and you can easily smell it from afar. For instance, if someone chops these chillies in the kitchen, the whiff will spread across the entire house. 42-year-old Indian-Assamese expatriate Geetika Khanikar Dutta said: “They are so hot that while cutting them, if I accidently touch them with my fingers, they cause a tingly sensation. Also known as ghost chillies, they ripen from orange to red colour.”
In Assam, almost every kitchen garden has a plant of bhut jholokia.”Khanikar explained that these hot chillies are used in various dishes like curries and pickles mixed with young bamboo shoots called bhut jholokia kharisa achar. Khanikar is fond of these chillies so much that she brings a batch every time she travels to her hometown. “I put a few pieces in a jar filled with mustard oil and get them here. This way, they are preserved well. Some people also dry them out to last long.” They are not as cheap back home. Khanikar said they cost Rs10 (approximately 50 Fils) for three pieces.
I put chillies bhut jholokia in a jar filled with mustard oil and get them here. This way, they are preserved well. Some people also dry them out to last long
2. Kashmiri Chillies
One of the most popular chillies, named after the region it is produced, are Kashmiri red chillies. Chef Neeraj Rana, head chef at Bombay Bungalow, Dubai, explained that these chillies lend an excellent flavour and are great for tempering dishes such as dal makhani, butter chicken and kebabs. He added: “I find them the best chillies in the world. They give a great texture and colour to any dish. They are not as pungent or spicy as other regional Indian chillies, but the vibrant red hue works magic in elevating the taste of any dish.” Kashmiri red chillies grow in temperate regions and can be widely seen in the hills of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu, and Kashmir. Rana hails from the hilly area of Dehradun and was raised in Delhi, India, where Kashmiri red chillies are a pantry staple. His taste buds are accustomed to the flavour of these chillies, which he now uses in his cooking.
Note: Follow this pro-tip if you’ve always wondered how to get a nice red texture to the curries or gravy-based dishes you cook. Heat oil in a small pan, turn off the heat, add Kashmiri red chilli powder, and quickly drizzle it over the dish. What you will get is a crimson red layer of tempering over the dish.
3. Mathania Chillies from Rajasthan
This world-renowned chilli grows in the arid state of Rajasthan, India and is famous for its flavour. These chillies are named after the Marwar Mathania village in Jodhpur, Rajasthan and are grown by the community for livelihood. Speaking to Gulf News Food team, Chef Sawai Singh of Sagar Ratna restaurant said: “I saw my grandmother use these chillies in many dishes, pickles, pudina chutney, even mirchi sabzi. I would enjoy them a lot and mostly pair it with dahi or yoghurt.” The unique thing that chef Singh likes about these chillies is the taste. He added: “Even though they are spicy, they have an amazing flavour, and unlike a lot of chillies, they are not bitter. You usually keep eating them one after the other, and it’s difficult to stop at just one.” In Rajasthan, there is a popular savoury snack called Mirchi vada [deep-fried chilli with potato filling] and courtesy of Mathania chillies, they have gained global popularity.
4. ‘Parangi’ chillies from Kerala
In the Northern part of Kerala, there is a district called Kannur, where dry red chillies are known as – ‘parangi’. Gulf News team caught up with Chef Thoufeek Zakaria, chef at Taj, Dubai, who said: “I am from Kerala, India, and it is interesting to note that in some parts of Malabar, the ancient spice trade hub, dry red chillies are known as parangi. Their name is derived from the word ‘Firangi’, meaning it’s foreign in origin. The Portuguese traders brought these chillies with them, and in Kerala, to date, this spice is called ‘parangi podi’ or Portuguese powder. They are tiny red chillies and can be fiercely spicy.”
I am from Kerala, India, and it is interesting to note that in some parts of Malabar, the ancient spice trade hub, dry red chillies are known as parangi.
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