I love red bell peppers. Although they are available all year round, for me, the most exciting time of the year is when they show in big piles at my farmers market. I like to stick a whole bunch of them into my oven and roast them until they are charred and black. Then I let them cool, peel their skins off, throw away the seeds and stems, and then hoard them in my refrigerator to be enjoyed on slices of toast with fresh mozzarella or cheddar for the next few days. I’ll add a bit of whatever else I have on hand – basil leaves, basil pesto, a splash of balsamic vinegar, drizzle of olive oil, and even honey mustard. The whole roasting peppers operation is pulpy and messy, but the resulting pile of sweet red pepper flesh feels like treasure of the most precious sort. For a different red pepper experience, I make my way to Fiore’s in Hoboken, which stocks a heavily garlic-laced vinegary roasted red pepper antipasti that tastes delicious on a crusty roll with their milky handmade mozzarella.
While I’m waiting for local red peppers to make an appearance this year, my mother-in-law makes a spicy red pepper chutney from store-bought ones. I can’t get enough of this chutney. I dab it on everything – idlis, veggie burgers, rice. The red peppers are sauteed on the stove with a little tamarind and salt, and then mixed with a freshly-made, South Indian podi or spice powder. The gorgeous red chutney is sweet from the bell peppers with a touch of tang from the tamarind and then fiery from the dried red chillies in the powder. I plan to make it again with roasted red peppers instead of sauteed red peppers for an even deeper smokier and sweeter flavor but for now here is the recipe, originally from my sister-in-law, Rohini, who lives in San Francisco.
Red bell pepper chutney
2 red peppers, roughly chopped into 1″ pieces
1 tsp of deseeded solid tamarind paste (Swad brand)
1 tbsp oil + 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
For the spice powder, called podi:
1 tbsp urad dal
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds (rai)
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
5-6 dried red chillies, or a few more depending on spice preference
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1/8 tsp asafetida (heeng)
1. In a small pan on medium heat, briefly fry the spice powder ingredients in a 1/2 tsp of oil, adding the cumin seeds and asafetida at the end, so that they don’t burn. Keep aside until it cools a little and then grind into a mealy powder.
2. Meanwhile in a separate pan, add about 1 tbsp of oil and saute the chopped red peppers along with the tamarind and some salt. Cook until the bell peppers become soft, and a knife slides into the peppers easily. Churn in the blender to make a paste.
3. Combine the spice powder and the cooked pepper paste, adding the powder in spoonfuls and tasting along the way to find the preferred balance of pepper and spice.
Enjoy the chutney at room temperature.
Note: the podi or spice powder tastes very good combined with a little salt and ghee, and dabbed onto hot idlis.