It might be just an ingredient in recipe books or lost amongst the bigger fry on a plate, but don’t underestimates the thrill of the chilli.
Despite its seemingly American origins, India’s spicy palate has been quite the nesting place for it, and we find the spice route takes us farther than the kitchen. Bring the chilli out to the bar, we say, and to the bakery, if you will and oh, if it gets too hot to handle, take it to the icecream counter as well.
When it comes to the chilli, one can’t ignore the Mexican side of the affair. Arguably one of the most superior cuisines when it comes to sampling the widest variety of chillies ever cultivated, you have a choice from freshly-picked jalapeno to its dry form, chiptle.
Then, there’s the poblano and another dry form, ancho, and so on. You will find all these and more at Tex-Mex resto-bar Sancho’s at South Extension in Delhi. It’s spicy, yes, but the Mexican way, not “Indianised”, reaffirms Mexican chef at work at Sancho’s, Jorge Romero.
“I have not “adjusted” the food to suit the Indian palate. It’s how it is in Mexico. We use 13 types of chillies here, all imported from Mexico and, I think, in a country like India where spice is popular, this should work,” he says.
Sample the Jalapeno mushroom pimento salsa (Rs 245) and you’ll know what he means. The subtle flavour of chillies is definitely not too hot for the palate though it will be a tad bit stronger in the chilli sizzling fajitas — king prawns (Rs 325) or Mexican chicken (Rs 295).
What you can also try is the tortilla buffet at Sancho’s (Rs 99), where you’ll find seven varieties of delightful salsas, from mango flavour to the corn variety to the delicate avocado salsa to roasted tomato.
At the ongoing Mexican food promotion at Pickwicks, the all-day dining restaurant at Claridges in the capital, try the jalapeno wonder Chimichanga, stuffed grilled tortilla bread served with jalapeno coleslaw, with a choice of chunky tuna or corn fed chicken, priced at Rs 850/750.
If a drink is what you need, chilli won’t disappoint you there either. At F-Bar and Lounge, The Ashok, New Delhi, captain of the bar Balwant Chauhan’s spiced up mocktails take centrestage.
For a red chilli mix, try Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Rs 300), prepared with lime juice, ginger ale syrup, chopped chilly, topped with lemonade and garnished with red chilli. The green chilli composition (also Rs 300), meanwhile, comes muddled and shaken.
Guava juice with a pinch of black salt, Tabasco, fresh lime, Worcestershire sauce, chopped green chilli and a bit of coriander, and you’ve got yourself a clean mean mocktail, garnished with green chilli and a ginger slice.
At Aura — The Vodka Bar at Claridges, chilli meets vodka in the Red Devil cocktail (Rs 500). Made with chilli infused vodka, fresh watermelon chunks and sugar syrup, this promises to be refreshingly spicy.
At Sancho’s, a special tequila shot mixed with salsa does a fantastic job of balancing the pungent taste of both the chilli and tequila. You won’t need lime or salt. The salsa shot is priced at Rs 199-400, depending on your choice of tequila; you can take your pick from brands like Corralejo to silver/gold Souza.
Also on the menu is Al Rayo, a tequila-based cocktail tipped with salsa, pomegranate juice and grenadine, priced at Rs 350 a drink. If you’re looking to buy a whole bottle of chilli vodka, try Kalanov Vodka, in black pepper chilli flavour, available at the Eshik Impex in Mumbai (price on request).
As an aside, it’s always a boost to know that what’s hot is also healthy! Chillies are very high in Vitamin A and C and consumed in small amounts, aid digestion. Especially, they say, in the digestion of chocolate. No wonder chilli chocolates are quite the thing these days.
From Australia to South America, small-town chilli growing communities are known to have ventured into the chilli chocolate making business, and online orders are very popular.
Closer home in the capital, the first to fuse the unlikely pair into a premium chocolate was Chocolatiers’ owner Sanjiv Obhrai a while ago.
“I get my chillies from Andhra Pradesh, surprisingly called Kashmiri chilli. We wash them with vodka to retain its red colour and to make the taste less pungent,” he explains.
At his chocolate boutique in CR Park, you will find that the red chilli is stuffed delicately with chocolate, albeit the tip will be more pungent than the rest for the lack of chocolate there. A kilogram of this delicate chocolate will cost you Rs 750.
And not just in chocolates, The Taj Mahal pastry chef Kim Caula recommends blending chilli in cake, a chocolate drink, anything that one would like, he gushes.
“You can cook it with dark chocolate, or use it for a chocolate base for chicken. But the use of chilli in this way is limited in India at the moment. People here have not yet understood it well. But this style of cooking is very popular in the US, Chile, Argentina and Mexico,” he says.
As for the cherry on the cake, chilli icecream is quite the thing to try. The spicy cold flavour comes for just Rs 30 for a cup of 100 grams at Apsara icecream outlets, Mumbai.