SOME LIKE IT HOT….
In our donkey sanctuary days in the Troodos foothills, for several years we had four Sri Lankan grooms (two married couples). Not only were they wonderful workers with a remarkable affinity with animals, but they were exceptional cooks. They made the most wonderful pilaffs, pastry and vegetable dishes. And they made curry, virtually every day, for themselves. Invited to taste it, it was fresh and delicious but throat-burningly hot. How they could assimilate so much hot chili we couldn’t understand. They reduced the heat a lot for us, when they had us in for a meal.
I have often wondered why it is that people in hot countries love HOT food. That said, the many varieties of moderately hot dishes you can find in cook books do add excitement to a western diet. The simplest way to hot up a dish is, of course, pepper, which comes in many powdered forms. From there one can go on to pepper sauces, like “Tabasco” or Nando’s “Piri Piri” and many more.
especially Colman’s mustard powder, adds zest and heat to many dishes. Generously coat rabbit joints with mixed mustard, dip them in flour, brown in a frying pan and then put in a casserole with chicken stock and mixed root vegetables – lovely. Add a little extra mustard to the Stroganoff sauce to hot up the fillet steak – super.
whack a dozen or so into both sides of fillet steak before frying to create Steak aux Poivres, before finishing with brandy, flamed. Start the same way for Steak Diane, adding some red wine, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and salt, reducing it well down and flaming with brandy before serving. If you haven’t got fresh green peppercorns, soak some dried ones for an hour or two in water.
This hot saucy paste originated in North African countries, but it now graces kitchens and dining tables all over the world. It comes in small jars and can be bought from good grocery stores and shops specialising in Middle Eastern foods. Made from ground chilli and various herbs and spices, it has a lovely aroma. Widely used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, it is dabbed on to plates of meat, fish, pilaffs and so on. Or, gives a hot lift to stews, soups and casseroles. Around the Middle East and North Africa you may find it comes in a little bowl, with added oil and bread for dipping. Beware, though. It is pungent and powerful and should be taken in small installments!
It’s also possible to make your own with a food processor. These are the ingredients for one (of many) version: dried red chillis, garlic, salt, fresh coriander, caraway seeds and olive oil. Optional items are: smoked paprika, cumin and mint. To allow the flavours to meld, make it the day before you want to use. After that, store in a cool, dry place. Once opened, it should be stored in the fridge and will last for 4 - 6 weeks.
Fresh Green Pepper Corns –
4 Sweet (“Bell”) red peppers 2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and chopped 90g / 3 oz chopped walnuts 60g / 2 oz dry breadcrumbs (I make mine from lightly toasted pitta bread) 1 tbsp lemon juice 125 ml / 4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp ground cumin A pinch or two of chilli powder or red pepper flakes.
Muhumarra should have a “hot” tinge to it – how hot you make it is largely up to you. Salt and pepper to taste.
Firstly you need roasted peppers. You can cheat a little by using the very good bottled ones, but wash the brine off them and pat dry. Otherwise, and this is not difficult, open up your peppers and discard seeds, stem and choggy bits. Then heat a grill till it’s really hot, flatten the pepper and put the pepper, shiny side up, in a small oven tray. Grill them until the surface is black and bubbly. Remove, let them cool then scrape off the blackened skin. Alternatively you can slightly incendiarise the peppers by putting them on a fork and holding or placing them over a high gas flame.
Now… 1. Chop the peppers and coarsely. 2. Put all the ingredients except processor and whiz until mixed. 3. Drizzle in the olive oil and in a series of quick whizzes blend the mixture – don’t make it into a puree, but leave it with a little texture. 4. Taste and season.
Serve as part of a starter selection of dips, pickles, olives etc., with hot pitta bread, or as an accompaniment to grilled meats, chicken, fish or roasted vegetables.