The idea of chili peppers as the star attraction might make you want to throw in the dinner napkin, but just imagine what a dynamite combination these little firestarters make with a creamy, mild peanut sauce. This Mirchi ka Salan is a dish to love, not one to be afraid of. For one, it's really not as spicy as you might assume. And for another, it's mindblowingly delicious, especially when eaten with a biryani or a naan.
Hyderabad, a city in south India, is known for its distinctive food, its beautiful palaces, and its rich nizams -- erstwhile royalty -- who called this region home. The nizams of Hyderabad were well known for their boundless riches and their love of the good life and, not surprisingly, their cooks created delicious foods that not just kept them happy and sated, but that went on to become firm favorites for Indians everywhere.
One of these more delicious contributions is the Hyderabadi biryani, an especially popular form of biryani in a country where there are many, many versions of this popular rice dish. And to accompany that biryani, the nizams' cooks stirred up another dish that was divinely vegetarian -- even vegan -- and that is perfectly capable of standing on its own in a meal, biryani be damned: Mirchi ka Salan or Mirch ka Salan.
Mirch ka Salan literally translates from urdu, the language the nizams spoke, to a curry of chili peppers. And that's exactly what it is.
Most people outside India -- and even some within -- might find the idea of a curry made with chili peppers preposterous, but then they'd be surprised at the levels of heat some native Indian tastebuds can tolerate. Every curry my parents, die-hard lovers of heat, ever cooked up would be a brilliant red with heaps of chili peppers, and my brother-in-law, Sampath, loved to eat rice mixed in with a good amount of a red chili pepper powder and a bit of ghee, instead of a sambar or dal.
That said, this Mirchi ka Salan is not really that hot. You can use a really mild pepper in this recipe, like banana peppers, sweet peppers, pepperoncini, even poblano if you can tolerate a slightly higher heat. I used shishito peppers, which are all over the supermarkets these days, with a promise on the package that only one in 10 peppers is hot.
While that promise isn't always kept, in my experience, I love shishito peppers -- they have great flavor and they taste amazing just stir-fried, as a snack. In this Mirchi ka Salan they are spectacular.
The peppers are stir-fried and then dunked into a sauce made of peanuts, coconut, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. It's the perfect base for the spicy peppers, and one that will leave you licking your fingers.
Tips on making a delicious Mirchi ka Salan:
- You can use any chili pepper -- from mild to hot -- depending on how hot you like it. But keep in mind that there are a lot of chili peppers here, so your curry will be very hot if you use extremely hot peppers. Like I said above, shishito, sweet peppers, cubanelles and pepperoncini peppers are a good choice. Jalapenos tend to be quite spicy, so I wouldn't go with them and I wouldn't advise you to.
- Make sure you slit the peppers open before you stir-fry them, and, if needed, deseed them. Deseeding peppers further reduces the heat. Slitting the peppers ensures they won't explode in the saucepan when you're stir-frying them, so be sure to do it.
- I use coconut milk in this recipe, mainly for convenience, but fresh or dry coconut shreds are a more traditional addition. You can add any one of these.
- Make sure you blend your peanut paste really fine -- you want all sorts of textures to come together in this recipe, and a smooth, silky sauce is the perfect base.
What to serve with Mirchi ka Salan?
My favorite way to eat this delicious dish is with a soft, fluffy garlic naan bread or any naan. Traditionally, it's eaten with a biryani, and it would be lovely with this easy vegetable biryani in 30 minutes.
You can also use any other Indian flatbread, like a roti or a chapati. Or just eat it with a delicious jeera rice.
Looking for more Indian vegan curry recipes?
- Railway Mushroom Curry
- Easy Vegan Chick'n Curry with Potatoes and Coconut Milk
- South Indian Vegetable Curry
- Kashmiri Dum Aloo
- My Dad's "Not-Mutton" Mushroom Curry
- Vegan Paneer Butter Masala
Mirchi ka Salan Recipe
Mirchi ka Salan, Chili Peppers in a Peanut Sauce
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 8 oz shishito peppers (slit from top to bottom and deseeded, if desired. You can use another mild pepper like cubanelle, banana peppers, pepperoncinis etc. but the weight might differ. You need about two cups of peppers at least.)
- 1/2 cup peanuts
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tsp poppy seeds
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 inch ginger root
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 tsp onion seeds (kalonji)
- 1/2 jalapeno pepper (minced, optional)
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 2 level tbsp tamarind concentrate
- 1 cup fried onions (you can make your own but I just use storebought, like French's. Any brand will do just as well)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- Salt to taste
- Make a paste of the cumin, ginger and garlic with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor.
- Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a wok or skillet. Add the chili peppers and saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until brown spots appear. Remove the peppers to a plate and set aside.
- To the same wok or skillet, add 1/2 tbsp oil and add the sesame seeds, poppy seeds and peanuts and saute until the peanuts look glossy and the sesame and poppy start to change color. Remove to a blender and blend into a very smooth paste with the coconut milk. Set aside.
- Heat the final remaining 1 tbsp oil in the wok or skillet and add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and onion seeds, if using. Once the mustard sputters, add the jalapeno, if using, curry leaves and the ginger-garlic-cumin paste. Saute for a minute or two.
- Add the turmeric and coriander powder, stir to mix, then add the tamarind concentrate. and the blended sesame-peanut paste. Mix well and saute the paste over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the paste begins to come smoothly off the bottom of the skillet and appears to ooze oil. This should take about 7-8 minutes.
- Add 2 cups of water. Mix well, bring to a boil, then add the chili peppers into the sauce. Bring the curry back to a boil and let it simmer for another 5 minutes. If it looks too thick, add more water.
- Add salt. Turn off heat and serve hot.