As a child, everything overwhelmed my senses.
Smell, taste, touch, a moving piece of prose, poetry or music, you could say that I was a hypersensitive. (I still am to a certain extent but society and life in general has cured me of it for the most part). And more so in the sense of taste, so I stayed away from all strong flavors – fish, sour things and particularly chili. I am the child who picks pieces of chili from my gotukola and my maalu paan. I am the child who avoids the katta sambol like the plague.
It is because of this reason that I’ve always stayed away from this particular Sri Lankan specialty – the stuffed banana pepper as it contained two things that I usually stayed away from – fish and chili, and more so, because of the chili. For me, the sight of it promised a world of unpleasantness in the form of an overload of flavor and unnecessary pain.
But then suddenly, unbeknownst to me, in my thirties, I was craving this stuffed banana pepper. Midlife crisis? I hope not.
I’ve tried every stuffed banana pepper available commercially (by the way, have you noticed how rare these once-so-common treats are? It’s SO difficult to find one these days!) but nothing really hit the spot. That’s when I decided to take things into my own hands. And to this date, the maalu miris badala that I make is my favorite version of the dish and I say this without conceit.
Stuffed Banana Peppers
- Banana peppers - 10 – 12, medium
- Coconut Oil - To fry
- Eggs - 2, beaten
- Bread crumbs - 2 cups
- For the stuffing
- Tuna - boiled, bones picked, mashed (I take one large tin of tinned mackerel usually as this is more convenient and also SO good)
- Potatoes - 300g, boiled, mashed
- Onions - 100g, sliced
- Lime juice - ½ tsp
To prepare the banana pepper
- (Now this is something that requires copious amounts of patience and nimble fingers.) Slice the pepper lengthwise without separating the stem. One clean cut is all you need.
- Slowly and carefully, take out all the seeds and any innards. Remember, the pepper gets its fire from the seeds. So without the seeds, you get all the flavor of the pepper but without the fire involved.
- Wash well and keep aside.
To make the filling
- Heat some oil in a pan. Add to this the onions. Sautee till translucent.
- Next add the fish of choice. Add in the salt and the pepper. Sautee till fragrant.
- Add in the potatoes. Mix thoroughly and take off heat.
- Add in the lime juice and mix well.
- Take about 1 and half tablespoons of the fish mixture per pepper and carefully stuff this into the pepper. Be careful not to overstuff the pepper as you need to make sure that it doesn’t tear.
- Next dip the pepper in the eggs and then in the bread crumbs. Make sure that the pepper is coated well.
- Heat oil in a wok. Once the oil is hot enough, deep fry the crumbed peppers until golden brown.
- Serve warm.
You know how the store bought stuff always has a sort of sogginess? Well this one has none of that. Because it is prepared fresh and served warm, the pepper does not have the opportunity to dispense of the excess water so it’s important to have them warm. The result is crunchy, piquant and oh-so-flavorsome!
The crust and the pepper combine together to create a crunch to the soft mushy centre of potatoes and fish. The piquancy of the pepper perfectly complements the mellowness of the stuffing to create a wonderfully balanced treat that will mesmerize your taste buds. The wonderful thing is that balance between the texture and the taste. This is a dish in which every element contributes – even the coconut oil in which it s deep fried gives it a lovely fragrant flavor that reminds you of tropical skies. For me, this is Sri Lankan vividness in a dish.
So here’s my tribute to a Sri Lankan classic that introduced me to the wonders that chili can do (I still pick the green chilies off my gotukola sambol though)
- The de-seeding of the peppers must be done slowly and carefully. This requires a lot of patience and time. Two things that I don’t have :D
- The second thing to be careful about is when battering the peppers. The skin tends to be slippery and therefore the breadcrumbs tend not to stick. So be patient, cover as much ground as possible and slowly and deliberately shape with your hands.
- The third point to be careful about is when deep frying the peppers. Make sure the oil is hot enough and lower each pepper into the oil carefully. Do not crowd the wok, I’d advice two peppers at a time. And don’t stir them around too much. Wait patiently until they reach a mild olden state and then turn them carefully if necessary.
- For a vegetarian version, omit the fish and try a vegetable filling.