12 June 2013

Fire and spice

Time for a confession: I am a massive chili WUSS! I love a little tang of chili on the tip of the tongue, such as my favourite Italian restaurant puts in their alio olio; or as a pinch of chili flakes in my stir fry sauce but that's about as far as I can go.

However, I love having chili plants in the garden, and I have put in two gorgeous dwarf ornamental pepper plants - one has purple foliage and produces deep purple to red chilies; whilst the other has standard green leaves and green to red chilies. My parents saw this and decided to give me another MONSTER chili plant which had been rambling wild in the rosebeds and growing too fast to harvest:

Oddly enough, my little black dog has been quite taken to wrapping her mouth around the chilies and gumming on them like lollipops. I'm worried about what might happen if she actually chews so it's living on the patio table for the moment. I used a couple in a stirfry the other day, and of course my family decided to have a chili chew-off - my bro-in-lo who is a chili gun was a teensy bit red in the face! My seestah had tears streaming down her face! I sensibly had picked out the volcano pods of doom and quite enjoyed the stirfry. The trick is to leave them whole as it is the seeds which are the killers!

So. Too many chilies. What to do? Make chili oil! It's great as to douse on things in the same way you would use any good olive oil - to oil a pan; finish a pasta or even dress a salad. You can opt to use the soaked chilies themselves or just the infused liquid if you are a chili wuss like me.

I made a small jar for my friend Tina recently as I had not had enough time to knit up a baby blanket for her and was finally able to catch up with her and her gorgeous bub, and I hated to turn up empty handed:


Sterilise a jar (by which I mean, put it in the dishwasher, if you are lazy like me)

Harvest a handful of thyme (I used lemon thyme for the jar above) and as many chilies as you want to fill your jar with and wash thoroughly. Trim the stalks off the chilies. You can leave them whole, which is pretty, or halve them lengthways to show off the seeds and increase the heat of the oil flavour more rapidly.

Skin and chop up a couple of cloves of garlic.

Place the thyme, chilies and garlic in the jar. You can simply chuck it all in; or put them in layers for a large jar. In the case of a small jar like the one I made for Tina, I like to keep the thyme on its stems and wind it around like a big bird's nest inside the jar - this provides a framework for the chilies and garlic chunks - just tuck them in with a fairly even distribution all around the jar (layering as you go in a circular motion).

Add a pinch of black peppercorns from your grinder (this way you'll get some whole ones and some semi-smushed ones).

Then pour over the oil, tapping or agitating the jar as you go to try to release the tiny air bubbles out of the centre of the chilies. In theory, by getting all the air out and having all the organic matter covered by the oil, it shouldn't be able to spoil, and will keep for ages and ages.

A simple yet effective way to use up all those chilies!

- Variation - I like the flavour profile of thyme, chili and garlic; but if you don't have thyme or you want to try something else, you can also use any or all of the leafy stalky herbs such as rosemary, oregano or marjoram. Try them all, it's so easy!

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