On Indian websites, Bhavnagari chillies and bajji chillies are the common terms used for large green chillies, and they seem to be used interchangeably. But there are differences in these two varieties, visually as well as taste-wise. Bhavnagari chillies are a darker shade of green, shorter in length, definitely packing in more heat. Bajji chillies are a paler green, longer, and not as spicy.
To clear the confusion, I had a chat with Manikandan Pattabiraman, an urban farming enthusiast from Bengaluru who is popularly known on the internet as “geekgardener". According to Pattabiraman, Hungarian wax peppers and banana peppers are the more common ones among the larger variety of chillies. Hungarian wax peppers are long, yellow-green with moderate heat, while banana peppers are bland and mildly sweet.
The variety of chillies I had bought were, therefore, the Hungarian wax peppers, popular as bajji chillies in the south (chillies used to make fritters). The heat in these peppers ranges from 1,000-15,000 Scoville Heat Units (a measurement of spiciness in chillies), which is why it is tough to predict how spicy a batch will turn out to be. Pattabiraman himself prefers to add them sliced as a vegetable component in sambhar.
The large cavity in these peppers makes them perfect for stuffing. Once stuffed, they can either be grilled or dipped in a batter and deep fried until golden brown and crisp on the outside.
My stay in Hyderabad introduced me to the cult following that mirchi bajji commands, be it at street corners or in cafés. Served hot, these must be tried at least once, even if you have a poor tolerance for spice, like me. Some cooks parboil the chillies and then stuff them with a bit of seasoned tamarind paste, which blunts the heat to a considerable extent.
Fellow food experimenter Krish Ashok had once tweeted a photograph of a plate of mirchi bajji served at a street stall in Chennai. The deep-fried bajjis were slit open, topped with some finely chopped onions, coriander and a sprinkling of a special masala. Going by the response to that photograph, it was obvious that his Twitter followers had gone into a salivary gland overdrive. Such is the appeal of this dish.
This is also our go-to appetizer at Oota, a fine-dining restaurant in Bengaluru that serves cuisine inspired by the culinary heritage of Karnataka. Here, the mirchi bajjis are called mensinkayi bajji and served with mandakki oggarne (spiced puffed rice) in typical Davangere style, with a dollop of coconut chutney on the side.
You could also go the Mexican way with these chillies. Chiles rellenos are chillies stuffed with cheese or meat, dipped in an egg-based batter and deep fried until golden. Jalapeño poppers are the modern bar snack variant of this dish.
My stuffed peppers recipe for you has a ton of flavour in the filling and I save myself the time and effort (and calories) of deep frying.
Roasting is the second best thing you can do with these chillies.
A recipe from my cookbook The Everyday Heathy Vegetarian that I love dearly and make often is the Roasted Pineapple Chilli Chutney. Vertically halved Hungarian wax peppers and chunks of pineapple are tossed lightly in oil and laid out on a baking tray. This is roasted at 200 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes or so until lightly charred around the edges. The mix is blended with salt and yellow mustard seeds to make a most flavoursome dipping sauce or chutney. The skins on these chillies tend to be slightly tough but they can be peeled off easily once the chillies are roasted or charred.
My salsa recipe for you is even more convenient. Roasting these chillies directly over the flame is a faster process and you don’t need an oven.
4-5 large Hungarian wax peppers (bajji chillies)
For the filling
2 medium boiled potatoes, peeled
100g crumbled paneer
1/4 cup coriander, finely chopped
1/4 cup peanuts, roasted and crushed
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp amchoor (dry mango powder)
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp sugar or powdered jaggery
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp kalonji (nigella seeds)
Make a vertical slit in the peppers. Using a teaspoon, scrape out the membranes and seeds. In a dish, mash together all the ingredients for the filling. Taste and adjust salt and spice levels.
Stuff the peppers with this mixture. You can use a cotton twine to tie the peppers so that they don’t split open during the cooking process.
Heat oil in a wide flat pan. Fry kalonji for a few seconds. Place the stuffed peppers in a single layer and allow to cook on a medium flame for 7-8 minutes. Turn over to the other side and cook similarly.
The skin should turn golden brown and soften. If the chillies don’t seem to be cooked, cover the pan with a lid and steam-cook for another 5 minutes. Serve hot as an appetizer or as a side with dal and rice.
Fire-Roasted Chilli Salsa
4 large Hungarian wax peppers
2 medium-size tomatoes
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
2-3 tbsp coriander, chopped
A pinch of paprika
1/2 tsp salt
Juice of K lemon
1 tsp sugar
1-2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
On an open flame, grill the peppers until the skin is charred and blistered. Follow the same process with tomatoes. After 5-10 minutes, the skins start loosening and can be peeled easily.
Halve the peppers vertically, scraping out the seeds and membranes with a spoon. Finely chop the peeled tomatoes and deseeded peppers. Transfer to a bowl. Finely chop the onion, garlic and coriander. Combine this with the peppers and tomatoes. Add paprika, salt, lemon juice, sugar and extra virgin olive oil. Mash well, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour for the flavours to intensify. Serve as a condiment or a dip to go with potato wedges, chips or nachos.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.
She tweets at @saffrontrail