I visited Hyderabad a long time ago, long before I started blogging about food. We were there on a short stay and we managed to spend half a day at the Salarjung Museum. However, 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 Mirchi Ka Salan. It’s a dish of long green chillies drenched in a delicious and mildly spiced gravy. As I understand it, most Hyderabadis consider the Mirch/ Mirch Ka Salan as the accompaniment to the Hyderabadi biryani. 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. Apparently 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 unusual 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. They belong to a variety of regional cuisines but come together very well in this one preparation. It is believed that for this was why Akbar was partial to the Mirch Ka Salan as it was representative of ideas for a united and harmonious empire.
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.