Project Mirchi

Powdered red chilies is a spice that makes me sneeze and makes my face go bright red but I can’t do without. How do I say it, I have a spicy tooth. For more than 20 years now, my mil has been buying whole spices, getting them ground and shipping to her children. By shipping, I mean carrying by trains and buses from Bikaner to Delhi and Pune and literally huffing and puffing while bringing them. “Absolutely no spices from the market, they have adulteration, you should eat the real thing” She admonished. One fine day, looking at her getting tired day by day in doing this stuff year on year, I decided to put an end to it and do it locally at Pune.

First I had to convince her it was a project I could undertake and handle, and that कोल्हापुर मिर्ची is comparable to that in Bikaner and let us try it this year. After a fierce mental struggle of to-give-up-or-not-to-give-up, she relented. Project approved and funded. I planned a week for completing the project, give or take a couple of days.

First step was to buy the whole red chilies, season’s new crop. Now, I am as educated about this as the baby born next door, so asked my help to get samples from the market. After analyzing three samples ( from three different vendors) procured over a week and the raw material cost, my mil declared that one sample was unfit because it was last years, other was too wet and the third too costly. So the only option was the too costly one and it became the chosen vendor and raw material. By the end of the first week we had 2 kilos of big red solid chilies procured. It may be noted that this whole process was conducted as per ISO norms. We had already overrun our schedule but the rest of the steps were expected to be done in a jiffy.

Step 2 was to break the heads of each of the chilies. An hour of labour by 2 ladies with face mask to avoid sneezing and two cups of tea later, it was done. No delays in this step.

Step 3 was to get it ground into powder form. Seemed simple. Could have been the end of the story which may not even have been told if it wasn’t for a tiny glitch in the matter. It did not quite happen that way. It was taken for grinding and the vendor said, you need to rub oil on the chilies and sun dry it for a couple of more days. My mil interjected saying it was unheard of in the parts of the world she hailed from. So we clarified the process with another vendor. Got the same response. Now confirmed, we had no choice but to cover the mouth with mask and apply the oil on every individual chili. There was really no place to sundry it, except spread on the bed in one of the rooms. Where sunlight would streak in for a couple of hours a day and it would take maybe a week to dry. Now I know why these things are easier done in villages and not in city apartments.

A week passed in all this rigmarole. The project was already delayed by a wide margin due to the large number of unknowns and no prior experience and we assumed the risks were all over by now. Now we needed to retry the step 3. With tremors in the heart, it was taken again, to the vendor. But the shop closed early that day so had to be brought back once again. This was a moderate risk but delay was marginal. Since nothing else could have been done with these chilies, we retried for the third time a day later. The vendor coolly added 1/2 kilo of salt and 250 ml of oil and ground the whole thing. Looks like that oil application at home and sun drying was redundant.

Yes, three week post the start date, the project was completed to satisfaction and we had our first meal with the mirchi under discussion. It tasted just like the food with Everest का तीखालाल। Since she had to have the last say, my mil declared that she never heard of adding salt and oil in her whole lifetime and shrugged, maybe they do it differently here. While thinking about the lessons learnt, I realized that my mil was probably better equipped for this than I.

Still makes me feel quite like the queen of spices.

PS: The turmeric and coriander season is due in March.