One thing I have discovered is that if a certain type of food ingredient, be it vegetable or fruit, exists in plenty then people across the world will come up with a whole lot of different ways to cook and eat it. Take the case of green chillies, or chile peppers as some people like to call them. One very popular way of using the milder (heat-wise) chillies is to stuff them and then steam cook/ bake/ grill/ roast/ crumb and pan-fry them or batter and deep fry them. The filling or stuffing used in the chillies is only limited by imagination and what’s locally available.
The Spanish have the Pimiento Piquillo, the Greeks make Piperies Gemistes (Yemistes) me Feta, the Mexicans are famous for their Chile Rellenos, the Turkish cook Biber Dolmasi while its Fil Fil Mahsi in Arabic cuisine and Ardei Umpluţi in Romania. Some form of stuffed chillies/ peppers can be found also in the various cuisines of the Baltic, Scandinavian, Balkans, Central European countries.
While some of the stuffed chilli/ pepper dishes are made with the sweeter bell peppers (or capsicum/ Shimla Mirch as we know them in India), many are made with mild longer green, red or yellow chillies. Varieties such as the Poblano, Anaheim, Jalapeños, Chiles Guerros, Cubanelle, and Banana Peppers are more popularly used for stuffing.
Indian cuisine and chillies go hand-in-hand, and it’s not surprising that we also have our versions of stuffed chillies. Note that I say “versions” because the ingredients that go into chillies depend on which part of India is stuffing and cooking the chilli!
Apart, from the North Indian style of filling bell peppers with seasoned and spiced rice, meat or potatoes and Paneer (Bharva/ Bharwan Shimla Mirch) and then pan cooking/ frying it, we also stuff long green mildly hot chillies and then crumb coat or dip them in batter and then fry them. These we call Bhajia (in the North) or Bhajji (in the South) and are our version of chilly fritters. “Mirchi” (or Mirch) is the Hindi word for chilly and “Molagu”(Malayalam/ Kerala) and “Milagai/ Molagai” (Tamil/ Tamilnadu) also mean the same.
Now the way these battered and fried chillies are prepared tends to differ as you move from the North of India to the South. In the North, generally, a filling is made of potatoes or Paneer and stuffed into the prepared chillies before dipping them into the batter and frying them. In the South, you might find these chillies filled with spiced peanut or dried coconut but mostly, the chillies are slit and de-seeded, then dipped into a batter which also fills the slit chillies and becomes the “filling”, before being deep fried till cooked and crisp.
As for the chillies we use, down South in Kerala where I come from, these battered and fried chillies are made with a variety of chilli that is locally known as “Thondan Mulagu”. In the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu, I have heard the chillies used for this being referred to as “Ooty chillies”. Here in Goa, we use Bhavnagari chillies (known to serious gardeners as Bhavnagari long and supposedly has its origins in Mexico!)
In Kerala, some people like their chillies really hot and fiery and do not understand the purpose of making anything with chillies if it doesn’t blow the roof off your mouth! We however, like most people, prefer to have our chillies very mild so that we can actually savour the Bhajji or fritters when we bite into them, rather than have our chillies “bite” us back!!
So do use, whatever variety of mild chilly/ pepper that is available where you live, and please de-seed them too and your tongue will thank you. You never know when you will find that one supposedly mild chilly that turns out to be the one which will pack such a fiery punch sending you teary-eyed desperately looking for something to put out the fire in your mouth. These Bhajji or chilly fritters are meant to be mildly spicy and this is achieved by adding red chilli powder to the batter in which the chillies are dipped.
Here, I have used the North Indian style of filling the chillies with Paneer (fresh Indian milk cheese) and some spices (no heat), and the South Indian style Bhajji (fritter) batter of chickpea and rice flours flavoured with carom seeds/ ajwain and asafoetida powder. Make sure your batter is of the correct consistency, neither too thin nor too thick. It should be thick enough to coat the chillies well without running/ sliding off.
You can stuff these chillies with any other filling of your choice but just make sure it’s a dry-ish sort of filling or it won’t stay inside them. An alternative to the Paneer filling is to use potatoes instead. Add the same set of spices given below for the filling (plus 1 tsp roasted cumin powder and some garam masala if you like) to boiled and mashed potato. Add a little tamarind paste/ lime juice for a slight tang and mix well. Then stuff the slit chillies with this potato mixture instead.
These Bhavnagari chillies are seasonal, and they tend to crop up at the local market at that time of the year when it’s pouring cats and dogs (and elephants too if you ask me). There are so many different ways to cook with or even pickle these chillies but the cold and wet weather makes it the perfect time to turn these chillies into some deep fried love that only gets better with a steaming hot cup of spiced Indian tea.