Of all the great cuisines of the world, South Indian food is my absolute favorite! It’s a vegetarian/vegan dream come true! There are very few Indian restaurants which serve this type of food. I have yet to figure out why. South Indian dishes are very different from their North Indian counterparts. Some of my favorites are cauliflower sambar, lemon rice, garlic rasam, masala dosa, a delightfully crunchy salad of cucumber, tomato, cilantro, chile peppers and lemon juice. Then fresh curry leaves, mustard seeds, dried cayenne peppers and asafetida are heated and popped in a bit of oil until fragrant. This is the drizzled over the salad and let me tell you, it is fantastic!! However, no South Indian meal would be complete without a little heat and crunch from “Gunpowder”. I’ve been making it for many many years, and everybody who has tried it likes it. The original recipe I found in one of Julie Sahni’s cookbooks. She calls for far more dried cayenne peppers than I use. I like it hot – but I am not the only one eating it! The gunpowder tastes great on avocado, radish, cucumber and tomato sandwiches. It can be mixed with a teaspoon of melted ghee or sesame oil to put on basmati rice. It also is great on popcorn.
To make it you will need: 6 tablespoons of chana dal (uncooked) 6 tablespoons of urad dal (uncooked) 6 tablespoons of sesame seeds about 30 dried cayenne peppers, broken into pieces 1 teaspoon asafetida 3 teaspoons salt 3 teaspoons of brown sugar 3 tablespoons oil (I use peanut or regular sesame oil)
Heat a heavy skillet or wok (preferably cast iron) and add the oil. When it’s nice and hot, add the chana dal, urad dal and the cayenne pepper. Stir and sauté until the dal and chillies are starting to brown a bit. Add the sesame seeds and asafetida. Keep stirring until everything is nicely browned and the sesame seeds are fragrant. Transfer to a large plate and let it cool. Then mix in the salt and brown sugar. To grind it, I use the attachment container of my immersion blender. A clean coffee grinder used only for spices would work, as well as a food processor. The trick is to not bring it into a fine powder. There should be bits of crunchy lentils and peppers. Let it cool all the way and then store at room temperature in a sealed glass jar. It keeps well for a long time, as long as you keep out any moisture. This yields about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of mildly hot gunpowder.