To finish my series on Indian inspired burgers, I am incorporating the flavors of the Malabar Coast, the plain along the coast of Kerala on the Arabian Sea. This is the land of my husband’s ancestors so the flavors of the food here have been imbedded into his DNA.

To make Malabar Burgers, I created a Malabar Masala that I use to flavor the burgers. It is based on a spice mixture from Kerala. An authentic Malabar Masala is comprised of whole spices that are roasted to bring out their flavor then ground before it is used. I simplified it to use pre-ground spices and added caramelized red onion, dried red chiles and finely chopped coconut to enhance the flavors. It seems everything in Kerala has coconut and chiles in it, so why not add them to burgers.

Malabar Burger

With the flavors of the Malabar Coast these tasty burgers are flavored with Malabar Masala spices then topped with tangy Cabbage Slaw. They are served on flaky Malabar layered parathas.

Once the Malabar Masala is ready I simply combine it with the ground beef and form the patties. Letting the patties rest before cooking allows the flavor of the Masala to permeate the meat.

To add contrast in flavor, color and texture, I top the burgers with a tangy Cabbage Slaw. It gets a slight punch from the minced green chile. It is dressed with a simple yogurt, mayonnaise and vinegar sauce.

The Malabar Burgers are served on traditional Malabar parathas. They are made with white flour and layered, like those from South India on which I serve the Madras Burgers. Malabar parathas’ layers are formed by rolling out the dough as thinly as possible, forming layers by pleating it like a fan and then coiling the pleated rectangle into a circle. It is then rolled to flatten it. They are cooked on a tava like other Indian breads. The resulting paratha is light and flaky, almost like an Indian croissant. They have an absolutely heavenly flavor and are quite addictive!

The burgers are placed on the cooked Malabar parathas and topped with a generous amount of Cabbage Slaw. These burgers are very easy to make and everyone one will love the flavors of Kerala in a tasty summer dish.

Check out these other burger recipes as well:

Bombay Burgers

Goa Balchao Sliders

Madras Burgers

Including this sauce in my repertoire of Indian fusion cuisine was natural due to the commonality of ingredients. Healthy tomato, onion and garlic sauces are common in both Italian and Indian cuisines so the incorporation of a few Indian spices and techniques turn this sauce into a delightfully robust dish.

Arrabbiata sauce got its name from the word arrabbiato which means angry in Italian due to the large amount of red hot chile powder that is used to make it. I felt compelled to add a few dried red Indian chiles to the pot to stir up the heat beyond that of the chile powder.

Spicy Arrabbiata Tomato Sauce and Penne

This Arrabbiata Sauce with Penne recipe blends the spices and red chiles of India with the spicy tomato sauce of Italy. Serve with penne for a delicious meal.

To make this dish, I start by roasting fenugreek, cumin and fennel seeds on a hot pan then roasting them to a fine powder after they cool.

The base of the sauce is made by frying the onion, garlic and chiles in hot oil to give them a head start at cooking. After the onion begins to soften, I add chopped tomatoes and the ground spices and let everything simmer together until the tomatoes fall apart and form the sauce.

While the sauce simmers, I prepare the pasta. I prefer to use rigate since is has ridges on the outside of the tubes to catch the sauce.

Some popular recipes for arrabbiata sauce grind it through a food mill to make it smooth. I do not do that in this recipe. Since the onions are slivered and the garlic sliced, processing it defeats the purpose of these steps. I also like the chunky texture so I can see the onions and garlic along with tomato bits.

When everything is ready, simply add the cooked pasta to the sauce and mix it all together. I serve it in individual plates and top with a bit of chopped fresh Italian parsley and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Many Indian recipes use chiles whether green or red, fresh or dried. In my opinion, one cannot have Indian food without chiles of some sort.


Which chiles should I buy?

I will let you in on a secret. There is confusion as to which variety of chiles is actually used in authentic Indian cooking. Over time the chiles in India developed local names that do not correspond with the scientific community’s naming scheme. If you ask someone, the most common answer will be the small thin ones.


I buy my chiles at the local Indian grocery because they are always available and fresh as well as half the price. They are very thin and about 2 inches long. In a pinch I will substitute Thai chiles or Serrano chiles from my local store for the authentic Indian ones. The flavor of jalapenos is different than the Serranos or Indian variety that I don’t use them in my Indian cooking.


Chiles are found in almost every Indian recipe.

Chiles are found in almost every Indian recipe.


How to store chiles

I have learned that some people freeze their Indian chiles so they have them on hand when needed. This is a great idea since I was making Lemon Pickle yesterday and had to run to my local Indian grocery to buy 30 cents of chiles. I know it was not a wise investment of time or gas to make the trip but my pickle turned out to be delicious and worth the effort.


Why are chiles used in Indian cooking?

The Portuguese brought chiles, including the famous piri piri chiles, with them when the conquered Goa back in the 1500s. At that time, Goa’s perfect climate enabled many spices to grow abundantly, which interested the Portuguese traders. They selected many spices to take back to Europe and other parts of the world in exchange for silver and other goods. Chiles grew well in India. They were cultivated in many states across the country and now make India one of the largest chile producing countries in the world. Many varieties are now grown in India each with their own uses and recipes. Piri piri chiles (or bird’s eye chiles) are featured in my Goan recipe for Piri Piri Chicken Curry.


Chilies are an important ingredient in healthy Indian cooking as they are high in important vitamins, mineral and fiber as well as being full of flavor. They also contain capsaicin (the substance that makes some chiles hot), which is used to relieve pain and inflammation.


Add a few chiles to your cooking! They are good for you. If you don’t like the heat, it can easily be reduced


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During my trip to India, I learned that the infamous piri piri chile (also called peri peri, pili pili and bird’s eye chile) that originated in Africa was introduced to the Portuguese and then spread to its colonies, one of which was Goa. These chiles, which look innocuous with their small size of an inch in length, start with a green color and turn red when mature. The heat level of these innocent looking chiles is at the top of the Scoville scale and ranges from 100,000 to 225,000 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units). Its heat is triple that of the Thai chile pepper which is commonly available across the U.S. These chiles are not for the faint of heart or sensitive tastes.


Piri piri chiles from Goa, India.

Piri piri chiles from Goa, India.


During our visit to a spice plantation in Goa, my husband purchased a few bags of them for me. I am thankful that he did because I cannot find them in grocery stores in the U.S. (They are available online.) I wish he had purchased the whole box of packets because the aroma of the dried piri piri chiles is wonderful. They have a slightly smoky scent like smoked paprika but I can tell with one whiff that they pack a punch. If you cannot find them easily, I would recommend using dried Thai red chiles or Mexican piquin chiles instead.


Piri Piri Chile Sauce is a simple staple to make and can be frozen for future use. After grinding the spices, they are fried with onions and then ground. The flavor is adjusted in the last step. It is very easy to make. Based on my research, my sauce is not as hot as an authentic Piri Piri Sauce but that makes it easier to use in recipes. I hope you love its flavor as much as I do.


This month’s recipe, Piri Piri Chicken Curry, gets its flavor from my Piri Piri Chile Sauce. Another easy to make recipe, it can be prepared in one pot. Just fry the onions and peppers in a small amount of oil, add the chicken and sauce, and you have dinner ready. It is best served with plain rice or Chapatis. I serve it with both rice and Chapatis with Onion Raita on the side to contrast with the heat of the curry.


Piri Piri Chicken Curry is an easy to make Indian recipe.

Piri Piri Chicken Curry is an easy to make Indian recipe.



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One of the most unique food accompaniments from Kerala is the dried buttermilk chile. Why would anyone fry dried chiles? Wouldn’t they be killer hot? Let’s find out how they are made and how they taste…


Fresh long green chiles are soaked in buttermilk and dried repeatedly in the sun.  Since they take a long time to make, cooks in Kerala usually make a huge batch that can be cooked as needed. A pound of chiles should last several months. Also they are usually prepared in the summer when the sun is the hottest and the days are long. Since this is August, now is the time to make them. If you have children at home, this is a fun recipe for them. They can be stored for a long time until you are ready to pop them into hot oil and fry them. 


Buttermilk chiles are usually served with yogurt, plain rice or roti. When mixed in with the yogurt, this vegetarian recipe has a tangy and salty flavor that blends with the yogurt to give it a tasty flavor. As a snack, my husband likes to have a few of them occasionally in the evening with his scotch.


Here is my Indian recipe:



Buttermilk Chiles


Green chiles that have been soaked in buttermilk and dried.

Green chiles that have been soaked in buttermilk and dried.

1 lb green chiles
2 cups buttermilk
2 tbs salt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 pinch asafetida


1. After washing and drying the chiles cut a slit down the length of one side of each chile. Do not cut them in half.


2. In a large bowl, mix the cumin, fenugreek, asafetida and salt with the buttermilk.


3. Immerse the chiles in this buttermilk and soak them overnight.


4. Remove the chilies from the buttermilk the next morning and lay them out on a clean kitchen towel to dry in the hot sun. Return the buttermilk mixture to the refrigerator.


5. The same evening, return the chiles to the buttermilk.


6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for 4 more days or until all of the buttermilk has been absorbed into the chiles.


6. Finally, dry the chiles in the sun for 4 more days until they are completely dry.


7. Store in airtight container until ready to use.


8. To prepare, simply fry them in hot oil for a few minutes until they turn dark brown.



– Dried chiles will keep in an airtight container for months. Once fried, they will keep for about a week.


– Take care in handling the raw chiles. You might want to wear disposable gloves to keep the capsaicin off of your hands and out of your eyes.


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I have always spelled the word for the hot little green vegetable that I put on nachos and in Indian sauces as “chili”, not “chile.” In researching the heat of some of these little devils, I ran across an article that was posted in the LA Times back in November 2000 that identified and analyzed the debate on the correct spelling of the word.  The author checked a very widely used and respected dictionary. There he found three spellings and all of them have the same definition. That sounds like circular logic to me. The Associated Press and the LA Times had conflicting standards for the correct spelling.


The head of the Chile Pepper Institute at the New Mexico State University, Paul Bosland, has declared that the spelling is “chile.” Previously unaware that an organization existed that was dedicated to “education, research, and archiving information related to Capsicum.” With a source like this, it must be correct. 


Just think! I have been spelling it incorrectly for a very long time! There is speculation that my Yankee upbringing might be the reason for my lapse in education. Living in Texas for half of my life, one would think that I would make the connection. But no, I didn’t. Effective now, I will spell the word with an “e.” 


Can someone tell the technical staff at Microsoft that they don’t need to flag the word “chile” as misspelled? Maybe I was right after all?



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As I started to write about why Indian food is so hot and what could be done about it, I thought I would do some digging around on the internet to learn about the heat of various chilies.

Green chiles

Green chiles


Did you know that back in 1912, a chemist named Wilbur Scoville measured and recorded the amount of spicy heat in chilies? Through his Scoville Organoleptic Test, he measured the amount of capsaicin they contained. Common green bell peppers have a score of zero while, at the other end of the spectrum, the naga jolokia chilies from northeast India score 1,000,000 heat units. Below is an extract from his table of results for your reference:


Scoville Heat Units Chillies
15,000,000 – 16,000,000 Pure capsaicin
855,000 – 1,075,000 Naga Jolokia
100,000 – 350,000 Habanero
50,000 – 100,000 Thai/Indian
30,000 – 50,000 Cayenne
10,000 – 23,000 Serrano
2,500 – 8,000 Jalapeño
500 – 2,500 Anaheim, Poblano
100 – 500 Pimento, Peperoncini
0  Bell Pepper



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Throughout the Indian recipes in my cookbook, Kachi’s Kitchen, the chilies are either sliced in half lengthwise, cut into small rings or chopped based on the traditional method of preparing the dish. I have found that if I want to reduce the heat in a dish without altering the flavor, I just slice them in half.  That way less of the surface area of the chili is exposed to let out its heat and it is easy for me to remove after the dish is cooked. 


green chiles

Green Chiles used in Indian recipes.


Don’t feel that you have to use the two or three chilies that are specified in a recipe when you are trying it out for the first time or you know you don’t want to run to the refrigerator for a tall glass of cold buttermilk to sooth your burning mouth. There are many different ways to reduce the heat when cooking with chilies. Here are some easy ways that you can incorporate into your cooking:

  • Select a chili that has less capsaicin (e.g., substitute a jalapeno for a habanero)
  • Use a smaller amount of the chili (e.g., use only half)
  • Just cut it in half rather than slicing or mincing it (this way it can easily be pulled out before serving
  • Remove the seeds (this is where most of the capsaicin is found)
  • Remove the white ribs where the seeds are attached (more capsaicin is found here)

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