One of the many ways I streamline my time in the kitchen is by making a batch of chilli dhana blocks. Chilli dhana blocks are frozen cubes of green chillies and dhana (dhania, cilantro, coriander, whatever you might call it).
They save me precious minutes every time I cook. Before these came into my life, I had to get the chillies and dhana out of the fridge. Then I had to wash them. Then I had to chop them. It easily ate away 5-15 minutes per day, which doesn’t sound like a lot – but it is. In fact, in the same amount of time (not counting freezing time) I can make enough pre-made chilli dhana blocks for an entire month.
In addition to saving time, I also don’t have to worry about running out of green chillies or fresh coriander. And there are few things worse in the kitchen than having to stop cooking to either go and buy more ingredientsm or cook something else altogether.
Make the chilli dhana blocks ahead of time. Then anytime you have a recipe that calls for green chillies and dhana (cilantro, coriander, etc), you just throw one in.
I’ve used them to make salsa, sambal, kuhri kitchree, dahl, samosa filling, guacamole, curry, raita, and even biryani.
How to make chilli dhana blocks
You’ll need the following tools and ingredients to make chilli dhana blocks:
- Green chillies
- Dhana, which you might know by the names dhania, cilantro, or coriander
- A food processor or mini chopper
- A pair of scissors or a knife
- Ice cube trays
- A silicone scraper
I usually use about 100 grams of green chillies, 40 grams of dhana, a tablespoon of oil, and a teaspoon of salt for each of my ice cube trays.
After washing the chillies and the dhana, cut off the stems from the chillies with a pair of kitchen scissors. The reason I use scissors is because I don’t have to worry about my hands being covered in chilli juice when I am done. If you’ve ever rubbed your eyes after chopping chillies, you know exactly what I’m trying to avoid.
I then remove any of the woody stems from the dhana. Some people remove all the leaves from the stems, but this is completely unnecessary. In fact, the stems of dhana is where most of the flavor comes from, so if you remove all the stems you’re missing out. (See note below if you are using American cilantro.)
Next, I place the chillies, dhana, salt, and oil into a food processor. I pulse a few times just to get things moving. Then I process until the pieces are all small and relatively even. It helps to have a silicone scraper because sometimes it’s necessary to push the larger pieces down near the blade. (While the machine is off, of course.)
Once it’s nice and processed, spoon it into ice cube trays. Silicone ice cube trays are the best, as removal is easier. But you can use a regular tray, like I’ve done here.
Then simply put it in the freezer and wait for it to freeze. This usually takes a couple of hours. Once frozen, remove from the trays. Store in a plastic container in the freezer.
How to use
Using these chilli dhana blocks is very simple. Remove the amount you need from the freezer, and use an amount similar to what you would use if you were using raw, chopped chillies.
If you’re using in an uncooked dish, like salsa, remove the blocks you are planning to use. Place the blocks on a plate and let them thaw. Add the blocks when you would normally add green chillies.
When making making a marinade (like the biryani above), throw them in frozen and just break them up. They will defrost quickly.
For regular cooking, just toss them in your pan when you’d normally add green chillies. They melt quickly.
- Green chillies vary in strength depending on the type and growing conditions. Try to stick to one type of green chillies each time you make this. If you notice that the same variety of chillies suddenly has a lot more seeds, it is probably stronger than your previous batch.
- The first time you make these blocks, start out with a smaller batch. This helps until you get the hang of exactly how much green chillies and dhana you need for your cooking style.
- Larger batches of food or families who prefer stronger food might find more green chillies and less dhana appropriate.
- On the other hand, if your family doesn’t like strong food you have a couple of choices. You can add some chopped green bell pepper with the chillies. Or you can remove some or all of the seeds from the chillies, as that is where most of the strength comes from.
- The size of your chilli dhana blocks should be close to the amount of green chillies you regularly use while cooking. One of my friends cooks for over 10 people and she uses an ice cream scoop to portion out her chili dhana blocks! But if you’re cooking for 2 or less, you might want to find ice cube trays that make miniature ice cubes.
- The cilantro in America has a much stronger taste than the cilantro in South Africa. You might want to reduce the amount of cilantro in your recipe, or even remove the leaves from the stems so that the flavour is not so intense.