Wednesday, 19 November 2014

On Food.Chilly from Chile-7

What is a hot and hearty Indian meal without a red runny nose and watering eyes ? Curry without chillies is like an egg without salt. Inedible. Much as it may surprise many, till the 16th century, the top listed hot spice in the Indian kitchen was black pepper, not the red or green varieties of chillies we use today in fresh or powdered forms of varying intensity. In recipes noted in the Ain E Akbari chilly means black pepper. It was only in the 17th century that this miracle spice made its appearance in India, courtesy the Dutch who were hooked to it after Vasco d Gama travelled to Latin America and brought the seeds thereof. Chilly derives its name from Chile, the country of its origin.
The Indians who loved pungent spices, were soon addicted to chilly and began growing it in abundance .
Overcome by the abundance of their taste the medieval saint poet Purandar Das wrote an ode to the chilly saying, " ah you chilly, I saw you grow from green to red, gradually becoming prettier and hotter, ah you chilly, as I breathe you in, your flavours make it hard to keep my mind focussed on my Lord Vitthala."
Today we have hundreds of varieties of chilly available to us from the sharp and tiny Nepali Mirch to the fatter Gorakhpuri Mirch from eastern UP ideal for pickling and creating that Hyderabadi miracle Salan , Mirchi Ka Salan and Rajasthani Mirchi Bhajiyas. The Kashmiri Degi mirch, like its Polish cousin Paprika, is renowned for giving the attractive red colour to the curries all over India . Then there is the rotund and dreaded Bhoot Jolakiya variety available only in the North East, which if imbibed by unsuspecting uninitiated, makes them scream and hit the ceiling.
Given its pungency, red hot Mirchis are also a part of ritual warding off of the Evil Eye ( Buri Nazar). A fistful of salt, mixed with black mustard seeds and seven red chillies are rotated over the head of the person ( usually babies) prone to damage by some envious person's evil eye, and then consigned to flames by loving grand mothers. It is believed that if the Nazar was indeed bad, the Mirchis will burn without emitting any acrid smoke and the salt will not splutter. A string of lemons and Mirchis is sold at many cross roads in India as a warder- off of Nazar and is hugely popular among truckers and those who drive along the highway . Even in busy markets some people earn their daily living by selling these little garlands to shopkeepers who hang it on their doors to keep good luck in and bad Nazar out !
Then there are gangs of thieves who blind their victims temporarily by throwing Mirchi powder in their eyes.
Interestingly, apart from humankind, the only other species that loves green chillies is parrots . It is believed that the talking parrots begin to speak clearly like humans if fed chillies regularly. Articulation comes with a price you see !
( next- Coriander )


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