Pepper is fundamental to most western cuisines and is a big part of our food in India too. And that’s not surprising because we grow some of the best pepper in the world. Said to have first been cultivated in the Western Ghats, pepper now is a huge crop in most of our southern states, along the Konkan coast, and on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands too. From historical times till today, pepper has been called ‘black gold’ and is one of the most lucrative export products for India.
There must be a rare few people on this planet who haven’t tasted pepper. Most of us see it at breakfast sprinkled over fresh fried eggs, at lunch hidden in the masala that went into a curry, as a part of the seasoning in a sandwich at tea-time, or in the salad dressing for that light dinner. Pepper is a big part of our daily meals, nearly as commonly used in Indian kitchens as salt and turmeric!
Like every ingredient, pepper is also available in different grades. I had the chance to cook with SPRIG Tellicherry Black Pepper and that’s when I had my ‘Oh my God!’ moment as far as pepper is concerned. If you’re wondering what a Tellicherry pepper is, in the first place, let me tell you. As with all things that is cultivated, the final product is of different sizes – and it’s the same with pepper. Once the pepper is harvested, the peppercorns go through a sorting process (garbling) that separates them by size. The biggest ones are called Tellicherry peppercorns and pack loads of aroma but a little less pungency compared to smaller peppercorns, making them perfectly balanced for taste and aroma. So yes, compared to the unlabelled packets of pepper available at the grocer, the Tellicherry pepper from SPRIG was a revelation and my family has fallen in love with pepper all over again!
The popularity of pepper doesn’t rest only on its great flavour. It’s been used in natural and traditional medicine for centuries and has plenty of health benefits. Down with a cold? Make a peppery soup and you will feel better in an instant. Pepper has anti-bacterial properties making it good for the digestive system, it helps remove toxins from the body and also helps break down fat cells. Pepper is packed with manganese, vitamins C and K, iron, potassium, and dietary fibre.
What I love about pepper is how it works perfectly in almost every sort of food; an Indian spiced up curry, a light salad, in spice rubs for roasts and grills, or sprinkled liberally on a plate of hot French fries. Pepper is one of the few spices that work brilliantly on its own so you can do a simple grill or stir fry with just salt and pepper, without the hassle of numerous ingredients.
Assorted chopped vegetables and chunks of boneless chicken tossed in olive oil with salt and a good grinding of pepper, served with bread is an easy and quick weeknight dinner. Cut up sausages lightly fried with a sprinkle of pepper makes a tasty lunch box filler or evening snack for hungry kids. Toss up a potato salad with mayo and pepper see it disappear in minutes! Don’t limit yourself to savoury dishes – chop strawberries, add a good dash of balsamic vinegar and some sugar and mix gently. Now grind some black pepper over the dish and toss again. The little bit of SPRIG Black Pepper will make this simple dessert absolutely magical!