Afghan Red Pepper Chutney: Surkh e Murch

Red Pepper Chutney

The Bullying. Stratford Landing Elementary School, Grade 2. In a suburb of Washington DC.

Ami used to make me sandwiches for lunch so I wouldn’t have to eat the horrid spaghetti in Bolognese sauce from the school cafeteria.

This “Italian” dish was usually made with meat which looked more like cat food, straight out of a tin.

All the other children used to bring soft sandwiches smeared with peanut butter and grape jelly, and even though I pleaded for those sarnies, Ami said no.

It wasn’t good for you- all that sugar and carbs.

Red Pepper Chutney

So I’d come to school, carrying my red tupperware lunchbox with Ami’s Pakistani-styled sarnies.

Some days there was a pulled-chicken toasted sandwich, layered with tomatoes and cucumbers, made from last night’s leftover murghi ka saalan; curry and other days Ami would make me kebabs and tuck them into pita bread.

In all my sandwiches there would be a smothering of fresh mint and coriander chutney.

There you had it- carbs, protein, and spicy tartness all wrapped into one.

Except the kids, egged on by the popular red-head in our class, used to sit miles away from me in the cafeteria, making faces at my food, and asking me, Is that green stuff shit your mom makes? or Are you eating mold? or Stay away, we might catch the foreign mold, they’d say.

I was one of the only foreigners in the school.

I didn’t have a heavy American accent, I didn’t celebrate Christmas and I didn’t go to the community pool during the summer.

My family and I would travel to new countries for a portion of the summer and then spend the rest of it at home in Lahore or with our family in London.

Yes, I was different, I was weird. I didn’t eat peanut butter and jelly sarnies for lunch.

Saddened by the ridiculing, some days I’d eat in the library, behind the bookshelves, so as not to suffer the wrath of the kids.

After all, I was eating foreign food.

Plus, I spoke with an accent.

Apparently, if one didn’t speak in an American accent, one had an accent.

That one, I could never get my head around.

Red Pepper Chutney

I still remember those years from Elementary School, and I know that if I had to do it all over again, go back in time, I would still ask my Ami to make those scrumptious chutney and kebab sarnies for me.

And I would ask her to give me some extra chutney on the side.

I have no regrets about the Pakistani girl my parents brought me up as- eating kebabs, spending summers with cousins in Lahore, trying to knock down that raw mango from the tree to eat with lime and salt and chili pepper, learning Urdu calligraphy on Sundays when all I really wanted to do was read my Grimms Brothers Fairy Tales- and I thank both my Ami and Baba for that.

Ami’s chutney was a green one, but this is a chutney my paternal grandmother, Mader used to make, which I loved and is summer appropriate.

Ami’s chutney recipe shall be “forthcoming, Fall 2011”.

Red Pepper Chutney
Red Pepper Chutney
Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Chutney Surkh-e-Murch: Red Pepper Chutney in the Afghan Manner

Author: Shayma Saadat


  • 4 large red capsicum / bell peppers
  • 4 garlic cloves (if you are using large cloves, use 2)
  • 4 tbsp white vinegar or you can use apple cider vinegar, too
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 small fresh, hot red chillies
  • salt to taste


  • De-seed and chop capsicum into small cubes (these are going into the blender so the size does not matter).
  • Chop garlic into small pieces (this is also going into the blender so the size does not matter).
  • Transfer capsicum, garlic, vinegar and sugar into the blender.
  • Add one chilli by chopping it with kitchen shears directly into the blender. Test for level of heat. If you are ok with it, add second chilli.
  • Add salt to taste.
  • Pulse in the blender till everything is minced, you want it to look slightly chunky, you dont want it to be completely smooth.
  • Serve with kebabs, rice, smear on bread for a sarnie, or enjoy atop your favourite cheese and crackers.

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  1. The photos are extraordinary! I adore the labels for your chutney jars! Although I am American by birth, I too was bullied in grade school. Our family moved often; we were the new kids. And I also brought lunch from home that brought demeaning comments from the kids who ate the cafeteria food. I believe these experiences have helped me to have more empathy for others. I also learned to cook without written recipes and am now recording them! I very much enjoy your blog. Thank you for sharing!

  2. heartfelt story – really sad, but also triumphant! i used to be made fun of for bringing hummus to school, ‘so smelly!’ although i’m american, hippie parents with taste for healthy food was quite contrary to the rich-kid norm of deli meat and crackers . . .

    now we are so proud of our food and heritage!

  3. I’m happy to see a new recipe on your blog! I really like your writing style & how you relate each recipe to important events in your life. Your stories remind me so much of my own childhood 🙂

  4. First, I am so sorry that our culture is so intolerant of diversity. I don’t know why it is this way. We all came as immigrants at one point or another in history. It makes me sad to hear of your being bullied when you were so little. Parents and teachers should have encouraged more cross cultural understanding. Pass on those wonderful culinary traditions and keep them special for you and anyone open minded enough to benefit from their flavors.

  5. reminds me of being given weird looks for my chicken tikka sandwiches in school while everyone else ate sloppy joes. love the story! x

  6. Children can be so cruel to each other. I hope things have changed for the next generation. I used to beg my mother to buy me “lunchables” (EW!) Lovely chutney, the labels and jars are so cute.

    1. Thanks to everyone for all the lovely comments. The ‘labels’ are just simple wrapping paper that I scribbled on in Urdu, cut, and stuck to the jars with good ol’ glue! x

  7. i missed your wonderful entries on your blog this summer, welcome back! your post today brought back so many bittersweet memories of also growing up as the only minority student in small town america. my grandmother would pack me delicious lunches of hot chapati rolled around jam, fluffy curd rice with a dollop of sour hot lemon pickle hiding in the middle, and lemon rice studdend with peanuts and green chilis. needless to say, i was sneered, jeered, and laughed at, and also spent many a lunchtime eating by myself in the library, media center, or out on the playground.

    as my daughter trots off to first grade in a few weeks, i fully intend to fill her lunchbox with hot chapatis, curried meatballs, and chicken tikka sandwiches. she’ll appreciate it as she gets older….just as i did ! 🙂

  8. hi shayma,
    how are you ? i am arjumand’s mother in law. these r lovely recipies…i must try them ….love you

  9. hello Shayma,
    Awesome post, very touching… I really like the colour of the chutney. I really have to have chutney with my meals. Can’t wait to try this.

  10. Hi Shayma – Nice to see you back on-line, hope you had a great summer. I too had a lunchroom bully when I was a kid, a big brute that used to steal my lunch from me just because he could. He always stole my favorite…peanut butter and strawberry jam. – S

  11. This is such a touching post, Shayma. Children can be so hurtful. We all have unpleasant memories from our childhood. The great ones are always to do with food 🙂 Love the chutney recipe… a little to hot for my palette but it’s an interesting condiment that’ll go well with Mumbai’s sev puri, I reckon 🙂

  12. Shayma joon, your story brought back so many memories and I can relate to it so much. I remember sending my daughters to school with noon-o-panir (bread and feta cheese) sandwiches for lunch and they would be ridiculed for it. Great recipe and gorgeous photos!

  13. Awesome story and pictures as usual…It’s so timely as I have been preparing red and light green long type sweet peppers recently with vinegar, olive oil and garlic…Something I tried in Serbia and loved…Next time I’m going to try making your chutney!!

  14. Thanks for coming back and that too with a great chutney! A touching narration of growing up and the challenges of being “different”. I am amazed at the empathy you have been getting…never realized it’s a common problem. Hope that our foods and devloping palettes will unite us all!

  15. Oh, kids are so cruel! Those same kids are probably now adults craving a curry! I can relate though… I too begged my mother for just plain ham sandwiches just like the other children had. My lunches ended up being half Asian and half Western in the end!

  16. Those calligraphy lessons for one certainly paid off. 😛 The labeling is just perfect I must say, and the chutney looks delicious too. Can’t wait to try it out! I have never had the red pepper variety before but its green cousin, the coriander chutney, used to be a fixture at our home as well. And I remember it went so well especially with peas pulao and aloo ghost or old fashioned chicken ka salan. Followed up by gulab jamun or shahi tukra for dessert, the meals prepared by Ammijan were the embodiment of scrumptiousness. Even thinking about them makes my mouth water..

  17. How did I miss this post? What a great read about your childhood. I bet it was difficult but as we grow up we realise how those little things our parents did makes us who we are today. I love those jars but can’t find them here, and the labeling in urdu. Very pretty!

  18. I am looking forward to trying this recipe! Funny, I was teased as a kid because I ate tuna sandwiches. I couldn’t eat the traditional peanut butter and jelly because I had allergies. Kids will tease. They just will…

  19. Delicious chutney! Reminds me a little of muhammara, and all the things we ate as kids that my kids born and raised in America would not touch! Like a pita bread stuffed with labneh and olives and fresh mint leaves..

  20. Sad – the bullying. but i bet those ones would eat this clean right now. Love the cute jars and the way you wrapped them (did you?). I have to try to make this chutney. sounds simple and easy and my girls wld love to spread it on their breads, yes even for school lunch!

  21. This is very interesting, You’re an excessively skilled blogger- love the Pakistani recipes. I’ve joined your rss feed and look ahead in search of more of your magnificent post.

  22. I just discovered your blog and am so happy to come here. Your stories, recipes and photographs are beautiful. I have always been fascinated by food from Pakistan and Afghanistan region and you present it so tastefully. I look forward to reading more of your posts and discovering new recipes 🙂

  23. Hi Shayma, I stumbled onto your site thru Indian Simmer and am absolutely stunned by the beautiful pictures! I am so glad :)I cannot read Urdu, but I can say this, the writing/ calligraphy is excellent!

    Stories about bullying, taunting can be so troublesome to sensitive children. I honestly cannot see reason behind eating out ( read sad Cafeteria food) to wholesome lunches made at home.
    I cannot help thinking, what if, the redhead today loves curry! HAH!

  24. Shayma, I have no idea how I stumbled on to this blog of yours, but it has kept me captivated for the past 30 mins or so. I am a Pakistani whose mother tongue is Farsi and who grew up in western pakistan amidst people speaking Pashto and Hindko. My maternal ancestral house however was in Lahore. And ironically my family now lives in Washington DC 🙂
    The way you transliterated the word for pepper in english brought a smile to my face, since ‘murch’ was the exact pronounciation I was used to hearing by the Pashto/Hindko/Punjabi speaking population. Then I would come home and give my Urdu-professor mother a near heart attack. I can still remember her correcting me “Mirch, Mirch, not Murch Maria!” And I definitely remember the sandwiches stuffed with ‘shaami kebab’ or toast/taftaan with honey and cream my mother packed for my lunches 🙂

    You really have a gift for writing. You made me nostalgic for Lahore and my home up west.

    1. @Maria Thank you so much for your lovely message, it was so heartening to read it first thing in the morning. I really enjoyed reading your food-related anecdotes – thank you for sharing them. All best, Shayma

  25. I went to school in Pakistan. And Pakistani kids would make fun of my Pakistani lunch. We had awesome shami kebabs at our place. And i used to make shami kebab sandwiches with butter and garlic achar or Kraft cheesespread. The kids used to tell me my dad had a shami kebab dhaaba. So go figure :(. But i loved my lunch. :)))

    1. @Mehwish I am so sorry to hear that. Children can be so mean sometimes. I will make sure I feed my son shami kebabs, too – he can take them to school for lunch – and I hope no one makes fun of him. Thanks for your message and visiting my blog 🙂

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