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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.



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