My morning porridge has morphed into something spicily hot and wonderful. Two months ago I thought, hmmmm, polenta-like, and eliminated the apple, kept the cranberries and walnuts and then dressed the cooked cereal with butter, harissa, grated parmesan and yogurt. A fiery bowl of complex flavours was the result. Add my super-strong, cardamon-flavoured black coffee and I’m in a heaven of hot, spicy and bitter, exploding in my mouth.
For those who don’t know, harissa is a North African paste used to spice up stews, mostly. I make my own, this way: Two tablespoons of cumin and one tablespoon of coriander ground up ( I grind, NEVER buy it ground; there is no flavour), add a teaspoon of salt and two or three or four cloves of minced garlic and pound into a paste in a mortar. Meanwhile, I have a cup of dried red chili peppers, de-seeded and chopped, soaking in hot water. Once they are soaked enough, I further chop then add them to the paste and pound until the whole is well blended. Then I add a dollop of olive oil, mix that in and put the resulting paste in a jar in the fridge. It will keep for several weeks but that amount lasts me about four days because I put more than a tablespoon on my morning cereal every day now.
Sometimes, instead of using the dried chilies, I use the leftover sludge from my hot sauce making, the seeds and pulp that won’t go through the sieve. It’s hotter because of the seeds and a bit different in flavour because of the lemon juice and vinegar and sometimes cranberries I put in my hot sauce.
It’s here that I insist that I have a jaded palette. Food doesn’t jazz me unless it is spicy, hot and complexly flavoured. But the truth is I have an addiction, I’m addicted to hot, hot, HOT! Food. But it seems that capsicum, the active ingredient in hot peppers has multiple health benefits. It works as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-oxident, been known to reduce nerve-fiber swelling in the brain, cause prostate cancer cells to commit suicide, and causes the body to burn more calories. So this is an addiction I won’t be trying to quit anytime soon.
It all started with hot sauce and hot peppers. When I was in my twenties, I worked at a factory that employed a number of Vietnamese and Filipino immigrants and my best friend there was a Vietnamese woman who would share her lunch with me. She told me she went through a jar of hot pepper flakes a week and cooked wonderful hot vegetables and seafood to eat on rice. I brought my own chopsticks which caused a lot of amusement since no one else ate with chopsticks. I thought Moui’s food was really hot and she would exhort me to drink coffee….. ‘That makes it worse!’ I would say, and she’d laugh.
Then when I worked on the road I began carrying hot sauce with me. Most restaurant food is bland and boring. At The Columbia Icefields I always ate the buffet and looked forward to it. I couldn’t understand why everyone thought it was so bad until the day I forgot my hot sauce and had to eat it plain.
My preferred hot sauce is very hot with not too much vinegar or salt or other flavours like mustard or fruits to distract from the peppers. A year ago I started making my own hot sauce. I make most of my own condiments and many of them are high on the Scoville scale.
Besides my harissa and hot sauce I regularly make kimchi and eat it daily as a side dish. I also make hot green tomato chutney and even my olive tapenade has a bit of heat to it.
Today I made my new batch of hot sauce. This batch is mostly habaneros with some green jalapenos and some cranberries added for the colour. It’s intensely hot and I really love it but I’m starting to worry. There’s only two peppers hotter than habaneros and then I’m into the weapons grade pepper spray region on the Scoville scale. Where can I go from here? Wherever, it will be hotter than…….heaven.