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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hyderabadi Mirchi Ka Saalan - An ode to Chillies

Coming from the city of Hyderabad, it is natural that I love hyderabadi food (vegetarian). I am sure most of us would have heard about the famous Hyderabadi Biryani. Infact,  biryani, mirchi ka saalan and bagaara baingan are a staple in most hyderabadi wedding menus and served along with rasam, saambaar, pappu and gongura pacchadi. (slurp!)

I was watching an episode of - The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the food network. I liked it when Ted Allen, an Emmy winning food writer, host and reviewer, mentioned Mirchi Ka Saalan as his favourite dish under Spicy category. And that reminded of this long pending draft and I sat down to finish the post. This is among several pending/scheduled posts for the blog. :).

Etymology and more...
As the name suggests, Mirchi Ka Saalan - translates to Chillies in a spicy gravy. This dish is truly an ode to the Chilli/pepper because, most recipes only use chillies as a spice and a flavouring agent. This dish has chillies as the main ingredient. Every authentic Hyderabadi restaurant serves Biryani with a bowl of Mirchi ka Saalan and Spiced raitha. Yummm!

Most Hyderabadi dishes are a nice blend of two very unique and wonderful cuisines - The Nawabi food/recipes adapted to the Andhra (local) ingredients. For example, among few other spices, addition of tamarind pulp, peanuts/groundnuts and red chillies to a typical nawabi masala gravy is the southern touch I am talking about. This blended cuisine is also called - Dakkani or Deccani khana.(derived from - Deccan plateau). Although Deccan plateau spans across south central India, Deccan food is more of a Hyderabadi/Nawabi speciality. (May be because Hyderabad was the capital city of the Hyderabad Sultanate and Qutub Shahi Dynasty)

Deccani food includes subtle variations from vidarbha and north eastern Karnatka (Bidar and Berar). Whatever the name, Hyderabadi food is simply wonderful. Also check out my adaption of locally available vegetables into Bagaara Baingan's gravy - Bagaara Celery and Pumpkin (mathan)

The recipe...
There could be small variations to this dish made in different kitchens. We generally use mirchi (the ones used for bhajji - Banana peppers) for this recipe. I used Serrano peppers. Any variety of Green chilli/pepper which could hold up in a gravy works well in this recipe. Types of chillies/peppers which could work for this recipe- Sweet Bell peppers (Capsicum), Poblano peppersMy version of the Mirchi Ka Saalan requires very less oil, preferably olive oil.

You need: Serves 4

Banana pepper or Serrano peppers - 9-10

Spices for the gravy
Coriander seeds - 2-3 tsps
Cumin seeds- 1 tsp
Coconut - 4 tbsp (dry or fresh) (grated)
Tamarind (pulp or paste) - 2 tbsp
Ginger - 1 " piece
Garlic- 2 or 3 cloves
Red chillies - 2
Sesame seeds (til or ellu) - 1 tsp (optional)
Groundnuts (roasted) - 4 tbsp or a count of 15 - 20
cloves 2 or 3
cinnamon 1 cm strip
elaichi 1 (optional)
bay leaf 1
Curry leaves - 6 -8
Poppy seeds (Khus Khus) - 2 tsp
Onion (chopped) - 1/2 cup
Salt to taste
turmeric powder - 1 pinch
Asafoetida - 1 pinch
oil - 1 tsp

Cilantro /coriander leaves for garnish

  • Slit open the chillies/peppers and scoop out the seeds and soak them in salted water (helps in reducing heat)
  • Soak Poppy seeds in just enough water and leave it for a while
  • Dry Roast coconut for half a minute or so and take care not to turn it brown. Transfer it to a plate and let it cool.
  • In the same Pan/kadai roast corainder seeds, cumin, split chickpeas / chana dal, red chillies and onion along with cloves, dalchini (cinnamon) and elaichi
  • Roast sesame seeds separately (they splatter so keep the flame low)
  • Fine grind the sesame seeds and then add the rest of the roasted spices, ginger, garlic, coconut, curry leaves, tamarind pulp and prepare a smooth paste.
  • Grind the soaked poppy seeds (separately) into a smooth paste (poppy seeds tend to remain coarse if ground along with other spices)
  • Drain the chillies (from the salted water) and use clean kitchen towel to pat them dry
  • Pour 1 tsp oil in a kadai/wok/pan and saute chillies
 Pour in the ground masala into the kadai
Add salt, turmeric powder and hing(asafoetida) and cook until the chillies look done and masala looses raw smell

Garnish with cilantro/corainder leaves and serve with Biryani /flavoured rice or simple steamed rice
Try this Hyderabadi classic and do let me know if you liked it...until next time take care!

  • Did you know that chilli/peppers used as flavouring agents and a spice, are basically classified as berries 
  • A simple ground rule to choosing chillies, the smaller the chilli, the hotter it is!
  • Here is a brief guide to choosing your chilli based on the intensity of heat: HERE - chillipeppermadness.
  • (Chillies is the spice and not the Chilli recipe famous in the Americas.) 


  1. i love mirchi ka salan i also prepare the same way with little variation

  2. Hi Foodlovers

    Thank you for stopping by...loved ur blog keep stopping by and letting me know your ideas and comments....:)

  3. Wonderful post, i miss my hyderabad days and also my hotel management college days. Thanks for bringing back my old memories. Your writing is so refreshing. Do follow my blog and leave your comment when you find time.

  4. hi amy
    thank you for stopping by and taking time out to write such a wonderful comment...loved ur blog as well...looking forward to reading through every post...would love it if you could keep coming by to Avial and Rasam regularly!

  5. Very good recipe. I tried this yesterday as my dinner share at one of my friends place in Mumbai.

    Many people are still new to this recipe due to a popular mis conception of this being a spicy dish.

    I did not use Poppy seeds and coconut. This is my first public presentation of this dish and it has come absolutely well.

    Hyderabadi dishes have a specialty and all its dishes have 'Groundnut and Sesame seeds' as active ingredients and base what they call in hyderabad - 'Tilli our Falli'. In my previous trials of this dish, roasting of groundnuts and sesame seeds was slightly more which has resulted in a different taste, a more burnt taste. Hence roasting is of prime importance in this dish.

    A very good dish with not many complexities and could be easily managed to complete within 30 mins without occupying all your kitchen resources.

    Thanks for sharing, Sudha, and motivating to try this dish.



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