Mirch/ Mirchi Ka Salan – Green Chillies in a Mildly Spiced Peanut Gravy (GF, V)
I have visited Hyderabad but it was a a long time ago, long before I started blogging about food. We were there on a short stay and though we managed to spend half a day at the Salarjung Museum, we never got around to eating out and so missed a taste of the famed Hyderabadi cuisine.
One of the more well-known dishes of the Hyderabadi cuisine is the Mirch/ Mirchi Ka Salan a dish of long green chillies drenched in a delicious and mildly spiced gravy. As I understand it, most Hyderabadis consider the Mirch Ka Salan as the accompaniment to the Hyderabadi biryani. However, it turns out that this combination is a more recent development and that traditionally this Salan was preferred it as a main dish to be eaten with rice or chapattis, which is how I prefer it too. Mirch or Mirchi is the Hindi word for chillies and a “Salan” refers to a curry that has a thick gravy. I’m not very sure about this but I think that the word “Salan” might be an Urdu or even Punjabi word perhaps for gravy, because I personally have heard it used largely by Urdu speaking Muslims including Pakistanis.
In the Telengana area in South India where this dish comes from, it is almost always served as a part of wedding feasts and also cooked for other festive occasions. Here, a variety of long green are cooked with a variety of spices and peanuts which thickens, the gravy, gives it a nutty taste and a slightly grainy texture. The result is a mildly spiced dish that’s a nice mixture of spice, tang and a hint of sweet.
No one seems to know quite when and where this dish came to be, but there are mentions in the Ain-i-Akbari, that the Mirch Ka Salan was one of King Akbar’s favourite dishes and that he was happy to know that it was to be served at his served at his coronation as the Emperor of India! Incidentally, Akbar was a vegetarian which must have been extremely uusual in that period especially for a Mughal king.
What is unique, in some sense, about the Mirchi Ka Salan is that the spices, other ingredients and the souring agent used in it belong to a variety of regional cuisines but come together very well in this one preparation. So it is believed that it was for this reason also that Akbar was partial to the Mirch Ka Salan because it was representative of ideas for a united and harmonious empire.
It seems that there are many variations of the Mirchi Ka Salan made in Hyderabad. Depending on the ingredients, spices and souring agent used to make this Salan, it could be brownish, greenish or whitish in colour! There is also a recipe which uses a citrus fruit called “Sour Orange” or locally known as “karna-khatta” or “id-nimbu”as the souring agent instead of tamarind. This dish, as I understand it, is rarely cooked nowadays, probably due to scarcity of the citrus fruit required to make it. Many believe that a really good Mirch Ka Salan should be brownish in colour, made in the traditional manner with fried onions and almonds and chironji/ charoli pounded together.
I’d choose a variety of long green chillies that are plump enough to stuff and also a little mild on the fire. In India, we get a variety of large pale green chillies called Bhavnagiri chillies which is what I like to use for these kinds of dish where the chilli is the “hero” of the dish but where I don’t want the heat that usually comes with it.
Another thing to mention is that the coconut used in this dish traditionally is what we call “copra” in India. Copra is the dried kernel or “meat” of the coconut and is used to extract coconut oil from, but also used in various regional Indian cuisines. If you cannot find it, you can used unsweetened desiccated coconut or even substitute it with freshly grated coconut.
For Grinding into a Dry Masala :
For Grinding into a Wet Masala :
Other ingredients :
- Start by making the dry masala. Dry roast/ toast all the ingredients for the dry masala individually and separately till each of them is a light golden brown in colour. Let them cool, then grind them together into a as fine a powder as you can manage. Over processing the ingredients may make them pasty.
- Next, make the wet masala by grinding the chopped onions, garlic and ginger into a smooth paste . You may add a couple of teaspoons of water if absolutely necessary. Keep both masalas aside till required.
- Soak the tamarind in warm water for about 15 minutes. Use your fingers to rub out the pulp and extract the tamarind. Then remove the tamarind solids and keep the pulp aside.
- Wash the green chillies well, and pat them dry. Using a sharp knife tip, slit the chillies along the length, on opposite sides without cutting through, keeping both the stem end and the tip intact. You can also choose to remove the stems and slit the chillies through to the top but keep the tip intact, like I do. Remove the veins and the seeds. Keep aside.
- Now start preparing the Salan. Heat the oil in a slightly deep sauté pan and shallow fry the chillies turning them over a couple of times until they’re a little soft and a lightly browned. Take them out, and leave them to drain on paper towels.
- In the remaining oil, add the mustard seeds. When the splutter, turn down the heat a bit and then add the cumin seeds, Nigella seeds and the curry leaves. Stir a couple of times and then add the wet masala to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until the raw small of the onion and garlic disappears and the oil comes up at the sides of the pan.
- Then add the turmeric, red chilli, coriander and cumin powders and stir for a couple of minutes over low heat. Do not let the spices burn. Mix in a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan to ensure this.
- Stir in a little water (about 1/8th cup) into the dry masala and add this to the pan along with the tamarind pulp, salt and jaggery. Stir well to prevent lumps forming and then add a little more water to adjust the consistency of the gravy. It should not be too watery as it will thicken up as it starts to boil. Bring the Salan to the boil and turn down the heat to medium.
- Add the green chillies, and stir gently. Let the Salan cook for another 10 minutes or so until it thickens. Take it off the heat and transfer to a serving bowl Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve hot or warm with rice or chappathis on the side, or with Biryani if you prefer.