Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Indian Spices: Lal Mirch (Red Chilly)

Go to your kitchen... or any Indian kitchen. Open the spice box that is within your hand's reach and stores the spices you use everyday. What do you see? A rich red powder. One that you have been told since childhood not to touch. Or if you do, then wash your hands immediately before touching anything else, especially your eyes. If you aren't Indian, then this is the spice you are probably afraid of in Indian food. Yes, I am talking of red chilly.

People often say that Indian food is spicy. The 'spice' that is often referred to in this statement is the pungency of the red chilly (especially dried red chilly powder) that gives Indian food much of its characteristic flavour.

Red chillies are available in both fresh and dried forms. Fresh red chilly is seasonal, and is used to make pickles and chutneys that can be stored for around the year. The most commonly used form of red chilly in the every day Indian kitchen is whole dried red chilly and dried red chilly powder. Whole dried  can be used for while tempering or to add to purees and gravies.

Kashmiri Whole Dried Red Chillies

Dried red chilly powder is used both for flavour as well as colour in Indian food. No Indian snack, curry, lentil or rice dish is complete without a dash of this spice. It is also added to some types of flatbreads such as parathas when making stuffed parathas or just spiced (masala) parathas.

Dried Red Chilly Powder (Kashmiri)

There are various kinds of chillies depending on their pungency and colouring power - for e.g. Kashmiri red chillies are the ones used at my house because of their mild pungency and the deep red colour it lends to food. We also use cherry red chillies (called boriya marcha - boriya meaning berry because of its shape) for some types of tempering like that of kadhis. Spice mixes that use chillies can often have more than one kind of chilly to bring about a balance of flavour, pungency and colour effects.

Simply to sum it up, we Indians love chilly and simply cannot do without it! Indian cuisine wouldn't be 'Indian' without a dash of this spice!