Making Tarla Dalal’s Stuffed Peppers Great Again


Making Tarla Dalal’s Stuffed Peppers Great Again

Illustration: Palak Bansal/Arre

If you ate a plate of homemade pasta today, with a garden fresh salad on the side, you have Tarla Dalal to thank for it. If your pasta sauce was pasty, had cornflour, and came with instructions that mention the phrase, “Ready in two minutes”, well, you have Tarla to thank for it yet again.

Tarla Dalal was singularly responsible for introducing us to the wonders of white sauce back in the ’80s and ’90s. Before the rise of TV chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor and now Vikas Khanna, Tarla Dalal held sway over afternoon TV. She’d be on TV in an eye-stabbing apron, slicing up multi-coloured vegetables, and making cheese sauce with enough flour to solve Africa’s food shortage.

Good old Tarla was a sort of Indian Julia Child, in that she understood the culinary sensibilities of middle-class India and showed them food that was more than sustenance after a hard day of work.

The timing couldn’t be better. Thanks to the economic liberalisation of the ’90s, India was open to eating more than just roti, sabzi, and dal-chawal.

Tarla Dalal made an entire section of the country salivate with her vegetarian takes on everything from chocolate mousse (using china grass or agar agar instead of gelatine) and a particularly evil looking vegetable lasagne, the image of which is burned into my memory, thanks to a clipping of the recipe my mum had on the fridge. Tacos, nachos, pasta, pizza, chowmein – the list of food Tarla Dalal put her spin on is endless. She opened up the floodgates of Indian gastronomy. For that, she’s a hero. But just like every hero, Tarla Dalal has had her share of unforgivable fuck ups. Chief among them, stuffed peppers.

Stuffed peppers are a gaudy throwback to the ’80s and ’90s. These were not bharwan mirch and jalapeno poppers.

These were large behemoth vegetables whose watery, tasteless flesh is the culinary equivalent of the wads of tissue paper you use to go from an A-cup to a B.

They’re impractical, clunky, and taste bad no matter how much cheese you stuff in them. But for some reason, all those old Hawkins’ ads on Star TV had a Mrs Khanna or a Mrs Kumar loading her stuffed multi-coloured peppers into her Hawkins’ pressure cooker to steam.

STEAMED. SOGGY. PEPPERS. WITH CHEESE. Take a moment to barf here. These were then laid out on the table along with an array of dishes to welcome Mr Khanna when he came home from work. And all was happy with the world.

I assure you, Mr Khanna never ate those stuffed peppers. Nobody ever did. But because it’s Tarla Dalal’s death anniversary and she taught us our first “phoren” dish, here’s a slightly modified version of stuffed peppers to send you down memory lane. It’s not as simple as Tarla’s, but don’t worry, she’s around in spirit to guide you through this.

Serve hot with schezwan sauce, and mutter a silent prayer for Tarla Dalal’s soul in heaven.