Chettinad cuisine and its unique fieriness come from a liberal use of black pepper. While black pepper is part of nearly every garam masala or spicy curry ever cooked up in India, its heat and flavor usually mingles and merges with the heat and flavors of other spices during the cooking process. But in Chettinad cuisine the black pepper is usually added to dishes at the tail end, separating out its fieriness from that of other spices.
The first Chettinad dish I ever ate was at a restaurant in Chennai (then Madras), and it was a chicken curry. A Chettinad chicken curry was also one of the first dishes I learned how to cook from watching one of my favorite chefs, Sanjeev Kapoor, on Indian television. As my own food preferences have changed over the years, I have tried to translate those well-remembered flavors into plant-based dishes, like the Spicy Mushroom Chettinad I have for you today.
This is a supremely healthy dish that's quite easy to make, but do adjust the pepper and chilies per your taste and tolerance. I usually tone down the heat in my own recipes because of Desi's sensitivity to spicy food-- were my dad cooking this dish, he'd probably add four times as much and still find the recipe not spicy enough. Still, this curry, when I made it this past weekend, brought tears to my eyes.
This dish tastes best with an Indian flatbread, like an Aloo Paratha, which balances the heat perfectly. It's also great over some boiled white rice.
Here's the recipe, all. Enjoy!
Spicy Mushroom Chettinad
1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
1 green pepper, cut into fairly large chunks, about 1-inch square
1 medium onion, finely minced
2 large tomatoes, diced
4 green cardamom pods, whole
2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon
2 bay leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp garlic, crushed into a paste or minced
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
2 green chillies, minced
1 sprig (about 10-12) curry leaves
Coriander for garnish
1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
1 tbsp ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a saucepan. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and let them sputter.
Add the cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves and stir for a minute. Add the onions, curry leaves, and green chillies.
Sprinkle some salt and saute the onions until they start to brown.
Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute.
Add the turmeric, red chilli powder, coriander powder and cumin powder. Stir to coat with the oil and toast for a minute.
Add the tomatoes and saute, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes begin to express the oil.
Add the mushrooms, green peppers, and salt to taste.
Stir everything together, lower the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and have expressed some liquid.
Finish by adding the black pepper and coriander leaves. Turn off the heat.
If, after adjusting the chilies to your taste, you find the dish is still too spicy, add some coconut milk to tone it down. You can also serve the curry with some Raita.