This ain’t no pepper fry!



Just like the butter chicken you probably eat at a restaurant and bring back guiltily in a takeaway container never tastes like the one you attempt to make at home, phaal is one of those salans that never tastes the same when Ammi makes it and, erm, obviously, when I make it. In fact, Ammi’s phaal is different from my mother in law’s and it’s hard to believe, but I’ve deduced that it’s all due to a sleight of hand.

In fact, the phaal masala which emerges from the mixer does look like a magical occurrence. Imagine tossing tomatoes, onions and coriander into a mixie and letting it whir for a few seconds. Pour it out, and the colour is indistinguishable. It could either be green or bear a reddish tint or some colour that is unlike any you’ve seen before. Cook it and pronto, the mixture turns dark brown or even black!

Phaal was one of the greatest mysteries of my life when I didn’t know the components of any salan and just assumed it was something only ammi could make. Imagine my shock when I learnt that this peppery salan could be made in a jiffy!

Phaal is great with rotis but if you’re fond of rice then it’s a good idea to make a regular dal. Drown the rice in dal and eat phaal on the side.  You can make this phaal with chicken or boiled eggs too. Adjust the seasoning and masalas till you get the right amount of sharpness. My grandmother, Amma, liked to put peas, double beans and thinly sliced fried potatoes in the phaal and we used to love it.


Mutton – ¼ kg

Onions – 2

Tomatoes – 2

Coriander leaves – a handful

Black pepper powder – 2 tsp

Garam masala powder – 1/2 tsp

Adrak – lehsun – ¾ tsp




  • Clean the meat and trim off excess fat. Wash, drain and keep ready.
  • Chop the onions roughly.
  • Deseed and chop the tomatoes similarly.
  • Wash coriander and grind together with onions and tomatoes in the mixer
  • Resultant paste should be slightly green in colour
  • In the pressure cooker, mix the paste with the mutton, pepper powder, garam masala powder and salt and a little water.
  • Cook for three to four whistles until the mutton is tender.
  • Open the pressure cooker and add oil. Cook together stirring continuously until the saalan is not watery and acquires a thick consistency.

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