This sauce is the secret behind the fantastic flavors of the Indo-Chinese cuisine. This is a treasured recipe, almost a secret: close to my heart, close to my family and practically resides in a treasure box.
The recipe was written down when I was ten years old, or maybe a year older and that handwritten piece of paper traveled over the seven seas and came with me to reside in this little box. In those two suitcases we had moved with across the oceans, I had packed this little jewelry box that was a gift from my friends in college.
Now how the recipes got to nestle inside it I do not know.
The “chili sauce” sauce compliments the ever popular “Indo-Chinese” cuisine. It is not really the kind you cook with. It is more of a sauce that you would use on the side. For years I have wanted to know the mystery behind that very elusive flavor that is the hallmark of the Indian-Chinese cuisine; something which seems impossible to achieve at home. Warm, smoky, and appetite arousing.
Ever since I moved here, I have used Chili or Chilli Garlic Sauce from the Asian stores. But I could not make any kind or any brand match the flavors of home. I have tried stir frying at high heat, creating a blinding volume of smoke by splashing water on the hot wok, and smoking the oil to the point I almost burned down the kitchen. But almost nothing worked. Until I started using this sauce. I had quite forgotten how my maa would make bottles of this and store for half a year. The green chili sauce was more popular then and it accompanied anything from noodles to fritters.
A very long time ago, one afternoon my maa’s cousin brother had walked in unannounced. He was quiet, but engaging, affectionate and charming and he was a fabulous cook. I do not exactly remember how we started talking chili sauce and recipes, but he had written down a few of those in sheets that have yellowed over the years. Yellowed and frail, but have not mellowed.
The other night we were at an Indian Chinese restaurant. Being far, far away from the familiar surrounding where I grew up, there are only few places where we can head out to over the weekend to satisfy the cravings of our favorite kind of fusion cuisine. Indian – Chinese. Lined up on the table was a row of some six bottles of sauce. All different kinds and they reminded me of the restaurants back home. Red Chili Sauce, Green Chilli Sauce, Chilli Garlic Sauce, Soy Sauce, Sweet and Sour and more. And then there used to be this tiny bowl of vinegar with chopped chilli peppers swimming in it. While we waited for the food I picked up the bottle of red chili sauce and started reading the ingredients just out of habit. It was a moment of I do not know what, when I read “potato” along with the red chiliies and all the others. In an instant I remembered the green chili sauce from home that Maa made. And my uncle’s handwritten recipe.
In the mean time, A had taken some of the sauce and stirred into his bowl of sweet corn soup. One spoonful and he said, “..this is it. Soma you should try to make this one…”
The next day the sauce was simmering on the stove.
Indian Chinese Red Chilli Sauce
Ingredients: (makes 1, 8 oz cup)
- 2 medium sized potatoes
- 3/4 to 1 cup packed red whole dried chillies, packed (adjust amount to how spicy you want it to be; I used 1 cup and the it was really spicy)
- 2-3 tablespoon vinegar
- 2 large cloves of garlic, optional
- 2 teaspoon salt (or adjust)
Boil the potatoes with skin until fork tender. Cool and peel the skin and chop them in chunks.
If you want the sauce less spicy, remove the seeds of the dried red chili peppers.
In a dry skillet, very lightly toast the chili peppers. They should not turn dark brown, but will be lightly fragrant. Remove from heat. Toasting brings out the intense flavor. If you want flavors that is less strong, skip this step.
Soak the dried red chilly peppers in 1/2 cup of warm water for about 20 minutes. Drain; set aside the chili peppers and reserve water.
Now combine all ingredients and puree in a food processor until smooth. It has to a little thinner than a paste. If extra liquid is required, add the reserved water a little at at time while processing.
There might be some whole seeds left after processing, but it is okay. If you do not want them, you can sieve the mix.
Place a thick bottomed sauce pan on the stove and empty out the pureed chilies and potato in the pan. Simmer at low heat, while stirring frequently, until the mix starts to have tiny bubbles and it thickens. The consistency should get somewhere closer to the consistency of ketchup. It will take about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool.
Clean, wash a glass bottle. Dry completely. Transfer sauce in the bottle and refrigerate. It will stay for a couple of months.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20-30 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy
Serves/Makes: 1 (8 oz) cup
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