Black Knights

In my little kitchen garden is a shiny black knight, resplendent in one corner of a raised bed.

Not a medieval horse-backed hero however, but a gorgeous variety of chilli pepper, grown from seeds given to me by my brother. The plant is a luscious dark purpley black from it’s stems to it’s leaves, and bears jet black fruit which ripen to deep red. IMG_6814Even the little flowers are a lovely purple-blue.???????????????????????????????

It’s cropping heavily at the moment and has been for weeks now; they’re quite hot, so I can’t use too many at once. Consequently my freezer is full and I’ve given them away to everyone I can think of.???????????????????????????????

Obviously, therefore, my thoughts turn to preserving. We both love Stephanie Alexander’s harissa recipe and have guzzled bottles full in the past. I loved the idea of a black harissa and resolved to give it a go one quiet weekend.

The recipe is disarmingly simple – simply whizz together all the ingredients, lob in a jar, and top with olive oil. Knowing how damn hot these chillies are though I decided to ‘thin it out’ with a green capsicum and remove as many of the seeds as possible, as well as knocking together a pure chilli one for the hardier Mr C.???????????????????????????????

Taking green capsicum, the deseeded chillies, caraway seed, coriander seed and leaves, garlic, sugar and salt, I blitzed them with loads of olive oil. The results were disappointingly green:

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I bottled it, straining out some of the excess liquid, and tried again with the pure chilli version. Again, quite green:

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I knew that the black form of the chillies is the unripe one and therefore would be green in a normal coloured variety, but I was surprised by how the black pigment was lost when liquidised. Could it be the greenness of the extra virgin olive oil? Surely not the small amount of coriander leaf? Who knows.

So: no black harissa for me. Less drama, but as to flavour, I’ll have to give it a week or so for the flavours to mingle, but I’ll let you know!

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Startlingly robust

chili1Another of my ongoing harvests is the habenero bush – a chilli that I used to call a scotch bonnet. I confess, when I planted it, I wasn’t fully aware of its mighty heat –  these things apparently can rate between 100,000 – 350,000 on the Scoville scale – and I now find I don’t really know how to use them without causing any of my dinner guests to spontaneously combust. Mr Chopsticks is a bit of a chilli fan however, and one of his favourite things is to ruin a perfectly good meal boasting balanced spicing, by piling on a chilli sauce or 3.

Thus it was that we made chilli condiments over the weekend. I chose a chilli jam, whilst he plumped for Stephanie Alexander’s harissa recipe. I won’t copy Ms Alexander’s recipe here, though it is a jolly good one, but the chilli jam I cobbled together myself so I’m happy to reproduce it:

Chilli Jam

  • 1 lb onions
  • 1lb sugar
  • 3 large red bell peppers / capsicum (ie the ones without any heat)
  • Approx 1 pint vinegar (white, cider, white wine etc)
  • Chillies – the number you’ll need depends on the variety and how hot you want it to be
  • ½ teaspoon citric acid or a couple of tablespoons lemon juice

I used about 20 habeneros and actually…I maybe overdid it a bit. Anyway. Personal preference.

Start by skinning the peppers. You don’t have to do this, but I think it’s nicer than teeny bits of peel in your condiment. Best way to skin them and obtain a lovely smoky flavour, is to lob them on a BBQ until blackened. Place in a bowl and cover, allow to cool slightly. The skins should come off easily:

peppers and basil

Skinned peppers, with Thai Basil

Peel onions and place in food processor. Process until fairly fine and smooth. Add peppers and chillies. I removed all the seeds from mine in a futile attempt to reduce the heat. Process until fine. I also added thai basil to mine, but that’s optional.

Tip – wear gloves when handling habeneros. Seriously. And do not under any circumstances sniff deeply at the processed chilli mix as you won’t be able to see – or speak – for some time if you do…

Place sugar and vinegar in a saucepan, and bring to the boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the processed chilli mix, and bring back to the boil. You may need to adjust the amount of vinegar but you’re looking for a fairly fluid mix. Add the citric acid if using (helps it set). Bubble away for 8 – 10 minutes. The jam should darken in colour slightly (not brown) and become thicker and syrupy.

Meanwhile, sterilise 2x 1lb jars. After the jam has boiled to the correct consistency, carefully ladle the hot jam into the jars. Top with sterile lids and invert for an hour to cool. Leave for at least a week for the vinegar to mellow slightly.

We tried the jam straightaway, as we usually do, wiping bread crusts round the empty pan. Even having removed the seeds and only using a few of our crop, it was certainly an eyebrow lifter. Mr C, with typical understatement, described it as being ‘startlingly robust’. Myself, apparently I reached an attractive shade of puce fairly rapidly; I wasn’t paying attention on account of needing to suck down litres of cold milk from the carton.

Maybe fewer habeneros next time.