I had my first taste of this dish Bell Peppers with Coconut, Jaggery ( dark brown sugar made from the sap of Palm trees) and bitter spices while I was visiting my parents in law for the very first time in 2000. They are living in Pune ( also pronounced Poona) which is a city very close to Mumbai, India.
My mother in law is a good cook coming from a lineage of great cooks. I always hear nostalgic accounts of her cooking from Anand, my husband all the time. Just the other day, he was recounting how she'll bake cakes in a clay pot with charcoal!! ( and how it used to taste so authentic and nice!!)
Anyway, when we were visiting, she had used baby bell peppers and had raw coconut stuffed into them. Even though I liked the dish then, I felt raw coconut would taste, well, raw so I tweaked her recipe to roasting the coconut. I didn't have jaggery so I used brown sugar instead. Lastly I didn't stuff the stuffing into the bell peppers but rather just let cook side by side next to the bell peppers.
This is a rather bitter dish. But the flavors of brown sugar, dried chilli and fenugreek seeds blends beautifully well together.
Ingredients ( Serves 4)
2 tbsps canola or any good quality veg oil
3 medium bell peppers, all of different colours for their vibrancy
1/3 cup grated coconut
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 Kashmiri dried chillies
A pinch of asafetida, optional ( See Note)
1.5 tbsp jaggery or brown sugar
Salt to season
Coriander leaves, chopped for garnish
Firstly, roast the coconut till golden brown and set aside.
Then, roast the fenugreek, mustard seeds and Kashmiri dried chillies for 5-10 mins on low fire.
Let the spices cool and dry grind to a smooth powder. If it remains coarse because of the small quantity, it's alright. ( I like coarse coz it gives texture to the dish)
Mix the roasted coconut, ground spice mix, asafetida and brown sugar together. Check for bitterness levels. If need be, add more brown sugar. Add 1/2 tsp of salt. Set aside.
Prepare the bell peppers. Wash, deseed and cut into big cubes.
Heat a medium sized pot, pour the oil and place the prepared bell peppers into it. Season with more salt.
Add in the coconut, spice and brown sugar mix to the bell peppers. Give it a good stir.
Add 1/3 cup water to let the bell peppers cook without getting burnt or stuck to the pot bottom.
Let it continue cooking till bell peppers are cooked. You might need to add in more water if needed. By this time, the beautiful aroma of the spices and coconut would have permeated your kitchen.
Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve warm with a dhall dish.
Note : Asafetida is sometimes called the Devils' Dung. It is bitter and has a strong smell. It is obtained from the dried latex of tap roots of several species of Ferula, a perennial herb. Used a lot in Indian Vegetarian Cooking to reduce flatulence esp when lentils and beans are involved.
It is sold in small pieces or ground and is widely available in most Indian Grocery stores. It's optional to use in this dish.