Saturday, 9 June 2012

Stuff memories are made of

Besan Stuffed Mirchi (Stuffed Banana Peppers)

My mother managed a young family all by herself for many years. My father a bank officer, used to be posted in various districts of three states, each with a different state language which would be the compulsory second language in schools in the state. So my parents had decided that mother would live in the city in the interest of the continuity and quality of the education of us kids.

Mother did a marvellous job of looking after us, taking a keen interest in our studies and education, teaching us shlokas, Ramraksha and Geeta Adhyayas, telling and reading us stories, instilling a love of reading in us, accompanying me to music classes, teaching us drawing and painting, pushing the chubby me to attend physical activity classes at the local YMCA and the Patanjali Yoga Ashram, pulling the reins on my brother who was after all a boy, she still found time to attend art school as a mature aged student! One wonders how she had the energy and the zest to do so much! She was equally adept at painting her egg tempera murals and as skilled at making her litho and linoleum cuts as she was at making the puran poli or the then new fangled chholey- bhaturey and Indo Chinese noodles. She would meet the deadlines of submission of her Rajasthani, Moghul and Jain miniature paintings and beautiful but tricky wet-into-wet technique water colours while successfully meeting the tight schedules of making the annual summer pickles and papad, papadis, sandageys and kurdais. She had a short window of glorious sun after the April showers and before the June monsoons to nurse these dry fryum goodies through, putting them out for drying to make sure they were perfectly sundried for storage for the year.

One would have thought she would then be dishing out some boring dal chawal or roti subzi everyday. But no, like her own mother, she was literally Annapurna, an incarnation of the Goddess of Plenty! Whatever she cooked turned out to be very delicious. Her most distinguishing trait was, or is, her training by my grandmother, her own ingenuity, spontaneity and speed! She was taught by her mother, the greatest cook in the world for the matriarch’s large family. Part of the tastiness of her cooking came from her novel experimenting, part of the charm and novelty came from her quick and intrepid decisions and the rest came from her speed- she cooked with panache but floored the accelerator once in the kitchen. I suppose the speed with which she cooked kept the taste and textures light and intact and I am sure even the nutritional values were retained by design or default!

Mother also used to be one for new or unusual foods. I remember how she had bought five pieces of chewing gum when it first became commercially available in the late sixties, from a local Irani café (of course, she had sent my brother to fetch them while we women folk waited demurely outside - women usually did not step into these cafes)  She had known about chewing gum from years of reading war stories! We had carefully placed the five pieces in a saucer as she had said we would get a piece after dinner. Dinner was gulped down while staking our claims on the colours of the shining tablets. And of course, mother had also joined us in relishing the very new textures of the gum!

Simla Mirch, Kartolas or spiny karelas, fresh peas were some vegetables that found favour in our house more than those in the neighbourhood. I loved some dishes more than others and one of them was the stuffed simla mirch or capsicum. We used to get small and tasty capsicums in those days in India, not like the huge but watery ones we get in Melbourne. And they were at a premium and only available during season like fresh peas. They were also not very widely eaten and looked upon as almost foreign vegetables in the Brahmin stronghold communities. I suspect both capsicums and peas came from the far away north. In the days before the ravages of interstate transport, prolific cold storages wide distribution grids and air-conditioned supermarkets selling vegetables from far and wide,  growing local and consuming local was the norm, nay, necessity.

We loved capsicum in any form, but my particular favourite was the besan stuffed capsicum. Mother used to cook the stuffed peppers in a flat thick bottomed brass pan called a ‘langdi’ or the lame girl! This allowed the little peppers to be propped up and then she would place a plate filled with water on top like a water bath. What an excellent way to quick cook without disturbing the peppers! They would get perfectly cooked from all sides without any spilling or breaking. Wonderful!

I tried to recreate the magic by baking stuffed banana peppers in a hot oven.

The result was very pleasing indeed!

Besan Stuffed Baked Banana Peppers

6 Banana peppers or small capsicums

1 cup besan (chickpea flour)

1 tsp poppy seeds

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 tbsp desiccated or fresh grated coconut

1 tbsp dry bread crumbs (bread crumbs give extra crispiness- my addition)

½ tsp coriander powder

½ tsp cumin powder

1 tsp or more (depends on how hot the peppers are) red chilli powder

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp amchur  (dry mango) powder

1 tsp brown sugar or white sugar

A pinch of hing

A pinch of turmeric

Salt to taste

3 tbsp oil

1 tsp tadka made with oil, mustard seeds and turmeric for garnish (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan and add the besan to it. Stir and mix well and roast on low heat. Add all the seeds and nuts and allow them to roast a little. Then add all the masala powders just as the besan starts to smell nice and change colour. Add the hing, turmeric, chilli powder, amchur powder,bread crumbs and sugar and salt to taste and mix well. Remove from heat and cool.

Wash and slit one side of the peppers length wise, taking care not to split the peppers. Remove all the seeds with a sharp knife. Retain the stalks. Rub a little of the remaining oil onto each pepper from the outside and stuff with the besan mixture.

Arrange the peppers slit side up in a baking tray and drizzle the rest of the oil on top of the peppers. Bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes or until they are done to your liking. Garnish with a little mustard, turmeric and oil tadka or tempering.

You can serve the peppers at room temperature with any main meal. You can also serve them in a tomato mint gravy or sauce!


  1. Lovely story, lovely recipe! The generation is made of something else! Even now, at 75 plus and with so many health constraints, she prepares the heavenliest of dishes. Whenever we visit, there is always a creative novel dish waiting for us to devour.

    One such dish we had at her place this year was the matki pulao. Can that come on this blog?

    1. Glad you liked it! Sure these folks are quite something!

      I will be happy to post the matki pulao the next time I make it...

      In the meantime, will soon post a masoor pulao I made a few days ago! :)


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