If there is one thing I always recommend anyone looking to sample good food in India its getting an invite to a traditional Indian regional wedding. The food is ostentatious, delicious and comprises of brilliant variety; a celebration of everything that the community would like to showcase. Lucknowi Tokri chaat, Bengali Shukto or Cholar Dal, Parsi Patra ni Machhi, Maharashtrian Bharli Vaangi and a Tam Brahm feast of Rasam, sambar and curd rice all worth a try and in fact some of the best you would have ever eaten. The list is much longer than this including some fantastic Punjabi, Rajasthani, Gujarati and Keralan food which mustn’t be missed.
So while I tucked into my biryani and salan at a Hyderabadi wedding a few years back I overheard people praise the food at the wedding particularly the Mirchi Ka Salan and the fact that the indication of a good salan is when the oil leaves the sides of the gravy but also the balance of flavours; tangy, spicy, tad sweet and rich with the slightly charred mild chillies. Along with the rest of the elaborate spread of Mutton dalcha, Boti ka Salan, Roghani roti and Khubani ka meetha. Needless to say I went for second and third helpings.
Mirchi Ka Salan is a traditional Andhra dish made with pan fried mild chillies and simmered in a spicy sesame & peanut curry. The gravy has a nutty flavour with the addition of roasted sesame and peanuts and is thickened with the help of coconut. Make sure to get the really mild chillies or Romano peppers. Also I’ve used a good amount of tamarind, so make sure to check the strength of the tamarind paste. If it’s got a good tart/ tang to it then just 2 tablespoons should be sufficient.
This isn’t one of those recipes you can make in a hurry, so give yourself enough time to roast, grind, fry, spice and simmer. But I will tell you now that your time will all seem worth the effort. As you mix that thick gravy with some rice the first bite will tell you what all the fuss is about and keep you coming back for more.
Slit the chillies lengthwise and deseed. Fry in 2 tbsp of oil for 2-3 minutes as the skin goes light brown and slightly charred. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.
For the paste heat a small frying pan. Add the coriander and cumin seeds. Roast on a low flames for a minute. Now add the sesame seeds and continue to roast for a minute. Make sure to stir the seeds so they colour and roast evenly. Now add the peanuts and coconut. Roast for a further 2 minutes until the mix starts to change colour. Set aside and leave to cool.
In the same frying pan add a tablespoon of oil and fry the sliced onion for 7-8 minutes on a medium heat. Stir well and as it start to change colour drain on kitchen paper.
In a blender add the spice mix, fried onions, ginger and garlic. Add a little water and blitz to a thick fine paste. Set aside.
In a heavy bottom non stick sauce pan heat the remaining oil on medium heat. Add the mustard seeds, nigella seeds and let them splutter for a few seconds. Now add the fenugreek seeds and stir for 2-3 seconds. Add the ground paste and fry on a low heat for 5-7 minutes make sure to stir well through the cooking process. Now add the chilli & turmeric powder and fry for a further 4 minutes. The oil will start to leave the sides of the pan. Add the tamarind paste, sugar and the fried chillies. Stir well making sure the masala coats the chillies well and also seeps in the slits.
Add 100mls water, stir and bring to a boil. Simmer for a further 5 minutes. Season to taste and garnish with coriander. Serve warm with plain rice, biryani or even some fluffy naan.