Now the way these battered and fried chillies are prepared tends to differ as you move from the North of India to the South. In the North, generally, a filling is made of potatoes or Paneer and stuffed into the prepared chillies before dipping them into the batter and frying them. In the South, you might find these chillies filled with spiced peanut or dried coconut but mostly, the chillies are slit and de-seeded, then dipped into a batter which also fills the slit chillies and becomes the “filling”, before being deep fried till cooked and crisp.
As for the chillies we use, down South in Kerala where I come from, these battered and fried chillies are made with a variety of chilli that is locally known as “Thondan Mulagu”. In the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu, I have heard the chillies used for this being referred to as “Ooty chillies”. Here in Goa, we use Bhavnagari chillies (known to serious gardeners as Bhavnagari long and supposedly has its origins in Mexico!). In Kerala, some people like their chillies really hot and fiery and do not understand the purpose of making anything with chillies if it doesn’t blow the roof off your mouth! We however, like most people, prefer to have our chillies very mild so that we can actually savour the Bhajji or fritters when we bite into them, rather than have our chillies “bite” us back!!
So do use, whatever variety of mild chilly/ pepper that is available where you live, and please de-seed them too and your tongue will thank you. You never know when you will find that one supposedly mild chilly that turns out to be the one which will pack such a fiery punch sending you teary-eyed desperately looking for something to put out the fire in your mouth. These Bhajji or chilly fritters are meant to be mildly spicy and this is achieved by adding red chilli powder to the batter in which the chillies are dipped.
Here, I have used the North Indian style of filling the chillies with Paneer (fresh Indian milk cheese) and some spices (no heat), and the South Indian style Bhajji (fritter) batter of chickpea and rice flours flavoured with carom seeds/ ajwain and asafoetida powder. Make sure your batter is of the correct consistency, neither too thin nor too thick. It should be thick enough to coat the chillies well without running/ sliding off. You can stuff these chillies with any other filling of your choice but just make sure it’s a dry-ish sort of filling or it won’t stay inside them. An alternative to the Paneer filling is to use potatoes instead. Add the same set of spices given below for the filling (plus 1 tsp roasted cumin powder and some garam masala if you like) to boiled and mashed potato. Add a little tamarind paste/ lime juice for a slight tang and mix well. Then stuff the slit chillies with this potato mixture instead.
These Bhavnagari chillies are seasonal, and they tend to crop up at the local market at that time of the year when it’s pouring cats and dogs (and elephants too if you ask me). There are so many different ways to cook with or even pickle these chillies but the cold and wet weather makes it the perfect time to turn these chillies into some deep fried love that only gets better with a steaming hot cup of spiced Indian tea.
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