When I started this blog earlier this year, Amey took up a hobby he’s always had a latent interest in.
We’re short on the square footage so all he could have for his first foray into gardening was the little window ledge above our kitchen sink. I like to think my blog naming choice factored into what his first project was. But truth be told, that was decided by some really hot (we’re talking bright lights flashing all over the Scoville scale) chillies we happened to find at the Indian store one day. He carefully saved the seeds from capsaicin riddled beauties and tossed them into a seedling pot with a fervent prayer.
A slow two weeks went by with no results…
After a frantic consultation with the omnipresent gods of instruction on the WWW, we came to the conclusion that (thanks to some quite flawed direction from yours truly) he had put the seeds too deep into the soil. Careful digging unearthed a couple of sprouted seedlings struggling to find daylight. Words of reproach and apology were bandied at large and the seedlings were replanted just barely beneath the surface of the soil.
They responded joyfully to their lives being saved by pushing out lovely green shoots in a couple of days. Since then, the ‘Cheeky Chilli’ plants, as they came to be unescapably christened, have never looked back. They moved from strength to strength and put out two fine young plants which grew happily for a while. Despite misgivings on the part of our local gardening store assistant, Amey moved both seedlings together to a larger pot. He was worried that their roots being completely entangled, both might die if he tried to separate them.
The plants grew quite a bit more, than stopped. No new leaves, no sign of flowers. More internet research ensued. The plants had to be separated for them to grow. Amey gave in and closely cropped the roots of one plant to make sure the other one sustained less damage. He planted the second one in another pot just in case. I’m happy to report that both patients survived the ordeal and are thriving. The larger of the two has responded to all of his TLC by producing the most perfect little flower bud you ever saw, which turned into the most marvellous little chilli. That first harvested chilli didn’t quite manage to make it to the recipe we had planned for it. But I can say that it was one of the sweetest (in a manner of speaking) chillies I’ve ever bitten into.
The fruit had strong, flavourful heat with a wonderful crunch. I managed to restrain myself with the following few and used them in a version of a potato vegetable today. The simple nature of this recipe allows the flavours of the chilli to shine. The soft and mushy potato is the perfect foil for the searing heat of the chilli, mellowing it as it mixes through.
A hearty twice-cooked potato vegetable
Potatoes – 6, medium sized, a waxy variety
Red onion – 1, medium, slivered
Tomato – 1, cut into a 1/2″ dice
Green chillies (Thai or Serrano) – 2 to 3, chopped fine (4-5 if the chillies are milder)
Curry leaves – 5 to 6
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – a pinch
Fenugreek – 1/2 tsp (optional)
Coriander – small handful of leaves, chopped fine
Salt to taste
– Boil potatoes. Peel upon cooling and chop into 1/2″ to 3/4″ cubes.
– Heat oil in a non-stick pan. Temper with mustard seeds. When the seeds start to splutter, add curry leaves, asafoetida, turmeric and green chillies. Add fenugreek, if using.
– Add onions and sauté until they are golden.
– Add tomatoes and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the potato pieces. Season with salt and toss gently to mix well. Cover and let cook for five to ten minutes.
– Garnish with coriander leaves.
Serve with chapati or other similar flatbread.
We’ve eaten this dish often, but never with an ingredient harvested moments before they went into the pan. Maybe it was the vested effort but it seemed to us that chillies had the same zing before, a certain je ne sais quoi that they delivered straight into the food. There was a vibrancy of heat that I did not believe three young chillies could deliver.The recipe is delicious and since you are more than likely to use store bought chillies for this , I venture to suggest that you use 4-5. They are the primary flavouring medium here for bland potato canvas.
Amey has since moved on to develop his little ledge garden. We now have rosemary and thyme jostling for sunlight next to the chilli plants. He also grew some basil earlier but it flowered while we were away on a short trip and the leaves went an unpalatable bitter. Sad, but basil grows like a weed so we know that it will grow easily next year. What we discovered was that with some attention and know-how, you can grow things in the smallest of places. There is amazing pleasure and satisfaction in eating something you’ve seen grow before your very eyes. The experience has also raised our respect for farmers who choose organic methods of scale farming. That must truly be a job you have to be completely involved in, with hard work involved.