My story of red chilli peppers

During one of our first conversations about food, a friend from France  who I met recently during a program on gastronomy asked me about recipes for chutney. India is of course identified as a country known for chutney, something that I was specifically reminded of along with the conversation with my friend when I visited Pays Basque in the southwestern corner of France.

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From road signs, and house names, to menu cards, the Basque language looks and sounds very different from the French that is spoken in France. IMG_0754The same can be said of the Basque cuisine as well. Referred to as piment d’Espelette in French, the locally grown red-chilli pepper from the Esplette region of Basque has protected designation of origin status. The red chilli powder finds itself flavoring soups, foie-gras, and thick purées that look like chutneys (occasionally accompanied by the younger greener version of the chilli pepper as condiment).

 

Below is a method for preparing a South Indian chutney that uses red-chilli peppers.

-Tomatoes and onions  (about 2-3 parts tomatoes to one part onion)

-Red chilli peppers  (add to taste depending on type of red chilli; seeds maybe removed to reduce heat while retaining the chilli flavor of the skin)

-Small piece of fresh ginger (or a few cloves of garlic depending on preference)

-Oil

-Mustard seeds

- Asafoetida (optional to season oil)

-Split black gram or black lentils (optional to season oil)

-Tamarind extract or lemon juice (optional)

-Salt

Blanch tomatoes, remove skin and seeds, and then chop into small pieces. Dice onions and slice ginger. Sauté the onions and ginger in some oil, add tomatoes, salt and continue to sauté for a few more minutes. In a separate pan, heat some oil, and season with a few pinches of mustard seeds and red-chilli peppers. When the mustard seeds start to splutter, transfer the seasoned oil to the tomato-onion mixture. Mix, and extract the flavor of the red-chilli peppers and ginger into the tomatoes and onions using a stone-on-stone grinder or mortar and pestle. Using a blender or food-processor also works though the extraction of flavor is different. The tamarind extract or lemon juice can be added if required to adjust flavor.

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The traditional Basque houses that have a white-washed exterior with a red-trim, during the season, in keeping with the color theme, hang elaborate arrays of the local red-chilli peppers on the south-facing side to dry1. Also during the season, in the town of Espelette, at Mass, the locals are given a blessing with a string of dried red-peppers1.

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Reference:

1. The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky

12 thoughts on “My story of red chilli peppers

  1. nirmala

    'My story of red chill peppers' brings different experience with my encounter with chilli.

    Very interesting to know how they dry the red chillies strung like festoons in houses. Maybe the chilli is not so pungent as in India! or else one would end up sneezing.!

    Red chilli is extensively used in srilankan cooking and they use stone on stone grinder for making 'Sambal' which is roughly ground small onions, rock salt and red chilli. It is used as accompaniment.and as spreads.

    I came across tiny chillies mustard in colour in Moradabad in U,P. Very pungent and used with great care.in indian snacks called chaats.

    Reminds me of my grandmothers house in our village where in the kitchen garden chilli plants were grown as an intermediate plant in the midst of egg plant and okra plants and the ripened chillies were plucked and dried in palm leaf mats in the summer heat.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      You are absolutely right, the Espelette chili peppers are not as pungent or hot as their Indian counterparts. But they do have a distinct flavor of chilli peppers.

      Yes, sambal is a good example of the use of red-chillies. I haven't heard of the the mustard colored chillies from Moradabad.

      After reading your comment, I can recollect a few images of drying red chillies in palm leaf mats under the sun.

      Reply
    1. Bala

      Yes, the karvepillai* leaves do add to the flavor.

      *For the benefit of other readers, karvepillai is the tamil word for curry leaves.

      Reply
  2. Reva Pershad

    What a resplendent sight ! Brilliant red chillies

    strung against a pristine white background

    with 'chilli' red windows & trims ! .A very

    common sight all over India ,

    the red chillies drying in the sun ,mostly on

    the floor , getting readied to fire up the dishes

    in their delightfully eclectic forms Though

    rampantly used in all states of India , the one

    which excites the palate & whets up one's

    salivary glands, is the signature dish of

    Rajasthan called Laal Maas ( Red Meat

    cooked in Red Chillies )

    But what is intriguing is the custom in Basque

    of using red chillies as a blessing , much like

    the Indians using them to ward off the evil

    eye ( 'nazar' in Hindi & 'kanne' in Tamil)

    Thanks Bala for your interesting ' My story of

    red chilli peppers ' & the recipe for red chilli

    chutney accompanied by lovely pictures

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Mrs. Pershad,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts in detail. You're right, the image of red-chillies drying up under the sun is a common sight in India. I haven't heard of the Laal Maas, it sounds interesting, though I think I've had something similar in Madras and in a Szechuan style Chinese restaurant.

      The use of food as a symbol of beliefs is an interesting topic in itself, and like you say, the belief in parts of India that red chillies will keep away the evil eye is interesting to think of especially in comparison to the Basque belief.

      Thank you.

      Reply

I look forward to reading your thoughts...