Do you know what a Konkani person working in a different state or living abroad when he/she thinks of home? Nine times out of ten, it is for hot paej (rice gruel) and crisp, deep-fried, spicy mirsange happolu (red chili papad). In traditional Konkani households, often, supper consists of hot rice, over which is poured warm milk, and is accompanied by an upkari (a vegetable stir-fry) and the precious mirsange happolu. These beautiful thin red discs are made of black gram flour (udidha peet in Konkani) and lots of hot chili powder. Though they are generally deep-fried in cooking oil, the earnest chili lover often prefers to have them roasted over live coals in order to retain the heat of the chili, and then smeared with a few drops of coconut oil to mellow the bite of the chili and to bring out its gourmet taste.
My dear late father was a gourmet king, and naturally, I grew up as a spoilt gourmet myself. Whenever my mother and my father’s sister used to make fresh mirsange happolu, they would save some dough for me to shape into a ponthi (an earthen lamp) in which I would pour fresh coconut oil and enjoy it in little bites in between mouthfuls of hot rice.
Sometimes, my father and I would each take a fresh dried mirsange happolu (not fried), smear both sides with coconut oil, and bury them in piles of hot rice on our plates for a few minutes. The steam from the rice would give an amazing softness to the chili papad, which would then be taken out and enjoyed with great delight.
The secret of making a great mirsange happolu lies in caring about two important things. The first is the flour itself. The black gram flour should be pure and smooth as talcum powder. Coarse powder just won’t do! Secondly, the dough needs to be worked so well that it is quite smooth, and binds perfectly. Traditionally, the dough was kneaded by hand and then transferred to a round granite hand grinder (a huge cylinder of granite with a smooth deep pit carved out in the middle). There, it was pounded repeatedly with a heavy iron pestle for 30 minutes to bring out the perfect consistency. As we could not bring the heavy traditional hand grinder (often weighing 200 kilos or more) to our new home, I just used a stone pestle to pound the dough in a large, extra-thick stainless steel bowl for a bit longer, with excellent results.
In olden times, we used to get either dried chilies or chili powder of nearly uniform heat and flavor, but nowadays, a great many options are available in the market. For the sake of this recipe, I have used the chili powders readily available in the market even though I generally make chili papads with our own homegrown organic chilies which are collected when ripe, sun-dried and powdered. This powder is a cut above any other, but as all are not in a position to do so, I would ask you to procure good quality dried chilies from the market, dry them in the sun after discarding the stems, and then powder them, rather than buy packaged chili powder. This way, you can choose the types of chilies you like best to make your chili papad. Enjoy!
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