It's a good year to make your own condiments. Not because the peppers and pickling cukes are overflowing, in fact just the opposite. A month of cold and rain in early summer delayed planting the summer garden. Gardeners have been telling me, with cautious optimism, that their tomatoes are finally fruiting. Folks seem a bit on edge, hoping for a warm September and the city water supply holding through the summer.
Your own condiments are always better, cheaper, and more wonderful. They aren't hard to make. Check out a jar of any hot condiment. Ingredients: chilis, vinegar, salt, and then depending on what it is, sugar, tomatoes, garlic , onions, sweet peppers, ginger, coriander.... Seriously, this is totally doable.
The easiest hot sauce is Jamaican jerk sauce. Scald a salad dressing or other smallish bottle. Stuff dried hot chilis of your preference into the bottle. I like cayennes (goodly hot, easy to put in and remove) but the insane among you may opt for dried habaneros. Fill with sherry. A sweet cooking sherry is most authentic, but use what you have. Let sit around a couple of weeks. Use by the drop. The sweet sherry smell disguises a wallop.
Just a reminder, scalding is just setting a clean container and its lid into a larger pot, pouring boiling water into the container until it overflows, and letting it sit for ten minutes. Then fish out your container with tongs and you're in business. For all the recipes that follow, scald the containers and lids first. With everything, label, date and store in dark cupboard.
"Szechwan" hot oil, also Thai, Vietnamese, Hunan, pick your cuisine:
Allow scalded jar and lid to air dry. You need a good quality cooking oil with a high smoke point, safflower for example, no point in using cheap, nasty ingredients. Peel and slice ginger root. Put a layer of sliced ginger in the jar first, then dry cayenne peppers, not packed but about half full. If you like, add any combination of a piece of whole cinnamon stick, coriander seed, a Chinese star anise pod or whole allspice, black peppercorns, mustard seed, dried red pepper bits and cumin seed. Cover with oil and cap. Let sit for a couple of weeks. Add to the oil for stir fried dishes. Use caution, as the homemade stuff is stronger than what comes in the pretty little bottles with high prices. As you use the oil, add more plain oil and your jar will last until next year. Put some new peppers in if it seems insipid. Always keep the solid ingredients covered to prevent molding.
Spicy noodles and chicken. This is a quick recipe for a busy day. It uses the chicken bits scavenged from making stock (see previous post, Start With a Live Chicken for stock directions) or any leftover meat sliced thin.
1 cup chicken bits
8 oz udon noodles or any fine noodle
1 onion, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
piece whole ginger root, peeled and sliced
dried sliced Szechwan or other mushrooms
whatever green stuff is in your garden, maybe a little broccoli florets and leaves, a few snap peas, mustard or bok choi, sliced baby beets and leaves, radishes sliced thin, a handful of green onions
In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup each soy sauce and rice wine or sherry with 2 tablespoons brown sugar and drop the mushrooms in to wake up.
oil for stir-fry and your special seasoned oil
If you have ginger preserved in spirits, use some of the ginger flavored spirits in the sauce. Then, top off the ginger jar with more spirits. This is a good place for a slice of galangal and a teaspoon of its preserving vinegar. See earlier post "Preserved Ginger and Pad Thai" for directions to put up ginger and galangal.
Cook noodles in boiling water to the al dente stage and drain. Clean and chop vegetables. In a wok or large skillet, cook garlic, ginger and sliced roots in oil and your seasoned oil. Add chicken bits and green stuff and cook briefly, until the meat is warm and the green stuff is wilted. Check for seasoning and add more flavored oil if desired. Add noodles, mushrooms and sauce and cook for a few minutes.
Pickled peppers. These are great in a wrap-style tortilla, to accent hefty fillings like beans and rice. Or mince them up in potato salad, if you like a spicy bite. The vinegar is a condiment in its own right.
8 oz canning jars.
Fresh small hot peppers such as serranos or Thai hot, rinsed and with the stems cut short
Put some apple cider or white wine vinegar on to boil. Scald your jars and lids. Set out a towel on the counter to work on. Use tongs to retrieve your jars. Pack peppers in to within an inch of the lid, loading each jar tightly without crushing the peppers. Work quickly, so your jars don't cool off, and be careful. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to each jar and pour boiling vinegar to within a half inch of the top, covering the peppers. Screw on lids. They will keep over a year just like this. Just let them sit there and cool and the hot glue ring on the lid will make a seal.
Or, if it makes you feel better, steam can for five minutes.
An aloe plant is very handy if you are working with fresh hot peppers. If you don't have one, bum a start from a friend. They are practically unkillable house plants. If your hands sting, cut open one of the big leaves and spread the juice on your skin. Oh, and if you rub your eyes accidentally, stand in the shower with your eyes open.
8 oz canning jars
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
big fat double handful small hot peppers
one red sweet pepper
Scald jars and allow to air dry. Got the aloe leaf handy? Trim the peppers, sweet and hot, and remove the white ribs, seed and stems. Cut everything up in pieces. Using plenty of oil for lubrication, smash it up in a blender, food processor or large mortar and pestle. Pack into jars, leaving a full inch of head space. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir gently to distribute salt, and cover with oil to within a half inch. Screw on lids. Keeps a year just like that. Keep the oil layer intact and don't tip your jars. Refrigerate after opening.
Additional note: Harif (Hebrew)/harissa (Arabic) is the special, unique national hot sauce of half a dozen Mediterranean countries. Try it anywhere you would like some zip: a dollop on rice, spread inside a wrap sandwich, giving warmed up cooked beans some attitude, for example.
More hot sauce recipes later.