June 27, 2005
The Secret Ingredient

chopped toms.jpgOne of the items in my urban garden is a gorgeous tall coriander plant. Until now, I've never had much luck with coriander. I have bought many healthy looking plants only to see them wither away and die before I had a chance to use any of their leaves. When they start failing 24 hours after you buy them, you don't want to make matters worse by taking away healthy leaves. But this year, miraculously, the coriander seeds sprouted and the plant has thrived. (So far - fingers are still firmly crossed!) This and the advent of the tomato season means I can indulge in one of my favourite snacks: tortilla chips with tomato salsa.

It's not much of a recipe really: take a few tomatoes, an onion or two shallots, a clove of garlic and a handful of coriander, chop them all finely and add a splash of olive oil and a little lemon juice. You can add some chopped jalepeno peppers too, if you feel that way. But the secret ingredient is my hot pepper oil. This is what gives the salsa a bite and a purpose in life.

I first discovered this oil eating in the pizzerias of Paris. Unlike the US, pizzerias here have hot oil instead of hot pepper flakes on every table for those who want to spice up their dish. I never liked the pepper flakes because I always felt like they added too much spice to individual bites but not an even spiciness to everything. Also, they were murder when they got lodged between your teeth. But hot oil gives an even heat to the whole dish. And it's dead easy to make.

Take one empty wine or liquor bottle, preferably an interesting looking one. Wash it well and rinse it with boiling water. Put about an inch and a half of dried small red peppers in the bottom of the bottle. (Do not use fresh ones as I did the first time: they become fuzzy and really scary looking after a week or so.) Pour olive oil over the peppers. You can add a bay leaf too if you like, but I don't find it adds much taste. Let it stew for a couple of weeks before using the oil, to give the peppers time to release their flavour. (Alternatively, you can do what my friend Daniel does and fry the peppers lightly in the oil before putting them in the bottle. This speeds up the process.) Put a cork with a spout on the top and you are done.

Over time, the oil will get hotter and hotter as the peppers release their oil and the amount of oil they are releasing into decreases. It will become something of a macho dare to use it. But if you make it once you'll find yourself becoming addicted to it. Not only is it great on pizzas but you can find 101 uses in other dishes. I use some of the oil to soften the onions when I'm making a chili. I drizzle a little into a bowl of gaspacho, where it makes a pretty and tasty accent. And I put it in my salsa and serve it with chips.

When the oil runs out, pull out the cork and shake out as many of the peppers as you can and throw it in the recycle bin. I don't know about you but we have an endless supply of empty wine bottles and having re-used the bottle once I'm ready to recycle it and start with a new one.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at June 27, 2005 1:19 PM | TrackBack Print-friendly version
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