November 19, 2011
Succulent whole chillies, delicately cooked in a thick gravy of roasted peanuts, almonds and sesame seeds. A gourmet, ready to eat dish created by the Master Chefs of ITC Hotels.
Thus reads the description of the iconic Mirch ka Salan, packed in an equally iconic yellow packet, both screaming of the fame of Kitchens of India’s Dum Pukht style of cooking.
I started salivating the moment the ready-to-eat delicacy fell into my hands, thanks to a colleague and star food critic.
My wife, though, sounded circumspect. She recalled that a decade ago she had coaxed her father into buying a similar ITC packet of palak paneer and how she was reduced to tears on seeing just two or three paneer cubes trying to hide in a mesh of palak in the pan. Taste? She vouches she has had far better stuff at the landmark Balwant Singh Dhaba in Kolkata’s Bhawanipur.
Well, cynics will always be cynics, I felt when i heated the saucepan the other night, ready to empty the contents. Out came the salan (literally, ‘gravy’) and the moment I saw it, my heart sank. It looked a pale version of what all of us have had in restaurants. It looked a shadow of a shadow of the picture in the packet. No whiff of anything, forget that Hyderabadi aroma, filled up the kitchen when the gravy started bubbling a minute later.
The salan, a canned paste with limp chillies buried in it, tasted like NOTHING. If there were any peanuts, almonds, curry leaves and sesame seeds, the palate could not understand. A sharp sourness spoiled the paranthas, spoiled our meal and I felt I was having an unmitigated sludge of earth that floods wash down.
Dinner done, I asked myself: Would ITC serve this salan in its restaurants? If not, why on earth should it fool us to buy the trash from the shelves for almost a hundred bucks? Is it a case of packaging gone wrong or a case of conveyer-style cooking just for the unsuspecting common man who can’t visit a Bukhara or a Dum Pukht and will nod merrily while eating any packed stuff that Brand ITC offers? Had it been the Western world, people would surely have sued the hospitality giant for the contents in the packet not matching the picture on the packet.
I felt humiliated and cheated, though i thankfully didn’t have to spend a buck for the crap. I would request the head of the ITC food division, sitting pretty in Bangalore, to try tasting what he sells. If his wife doesn’t turn him out of the house after a spoon of this Mirch ka Salan, I will shut down this blog and never talk or write about food. It’s a promise.
PS: In case if you feel Mirch ka Salanish, try this Sanjeev Kapoor recipe. Please write back and tell us how it went.
How to do it
Wash, wipe and slit green chillies lengthwise without cutting the chillies into two.
Heat sufficient olive oil in a kadai (wok) and deep-fry for one minute. Drain and place on absorbent paper and set aside.
To make masala paste, dry roast sesame seeds, coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Cool and grind them to a paste along with peanuts, whole dry red chillies, ginger and garlic.
Heat two tablespoons oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, let them splutter and add curry leaves. Sauté for half a minute and add onion. Sauté, stirring continuously, till onion is light golden brown.
Add turmeric powder and mix well. Add masala paste and cook for three minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in one and half cups of water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for ten minutes.
Add tamarind pulp (dissolved in half a cup of water, if it is too thick). Add fried green chillies and salt and cook on low heat for eight to ten minutes. Serve hot.