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Hot sauce

My partner is a chili fiend.  Hotter the better.  One of his favourite breakfasts is a poached egg with chilli sauce. He will put chilli on practically anything.

We have chillis in the garden, lots of them, but he spotted a bottle of chilli sauce at a market, labelled “Warning – very, very hot chillies”, so of course he had to take up the challenge.

And of course then I had to take up the challenge of reproducing it.

This is straight hot sauce – just chilies, vinegar and salt. Depending how hot your chillies are, it can be anything from magma to mildly spicy.  Its simplicity is its strength – you can add it to anything without muddying flavours.

The Recipe

It’s hardly worth a recipe.

Halve your chillies and remove some or most of the seeds.  Use gloves, or really really remember not to touch your face for hours afterwards. The seeds make it hotter, but I find that leaving all of them in gives it a bit too much bitterness.

Put them in a blender and cover with vinegar. I just use plain white vinegar, but it won’t matter what kind you use. Blend until it is semi-smooth – you want a little bit of texture in hot sauce.  Add half a teaspoon of salt for each cup of blend.

Pour the mix into a slow cooker, or into a non-reactive pot on a very low heat, and cook for as long as you like till it is thick and reduced.  Don’t use an aluminium or cast iron pot – the vinegar will pick up a metallic taste.  Use pyrex or enamel or stainless steel for anything with a lot of acid.

While the chillies are cooking, sterilize some bottles.  I would have used little, screw top bottles if I had any.  Because it is preserved in vinegar, the sauce doesn’t need hot bathing afterwards so you don’t need pop-in lids, and it will be used as a pour or drip on sauce. Sterilize bottles by boilingfor 15 minutes, or by pressure cooking for 5 minutes.  Or, if you have a microwave you can use that.

When it is the right consistency, taste your sauce and adjust the salt to taste.  Bottle in your sterilized bottles.  If the bottles and lids are sterile, it should last on the shelf for many months.

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mango and tomato chutney

This year’s Hot Mango and Tomato Chutney is in the jars.  I make some version of this every year around this time, when mangoes, tomatoes and chilies are all available in glut proportions. It’s never quite the same.  A jar of home-made chutney on the shelf is one of those kitchen magician pantry items – it allows you to magic a meal out of a fridge that is nearly bare. It transforms a very plain dhall or vegetable slice or lentil patties into a dinner guests worthy meal. I really like pantry items like that. They allow you to use up the last of things in the fridge and save you from “having” to go shopping when you have better things to do.

There’s some basic chutney concepts to follow, but from then on, it’s infinitely variable.

The Base Recipe:

Sterilize some jars by boiling for 20 minutes or pressure cooking for 10.

Place in a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil:

4 medium under-ripe mangoes, peeled, seeded and diced
6 under-ripe tomatoes, sliced
teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chopped onions
1 cup currants
4 red chillies, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander or culantro, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups malt vinegar
2 cups brown sugar
salt to taste

Simmer gently for 10 minutes and adjust the salt to taste. Then simmer very gently, stirring, until mangoes are soft and mixture is jam-like. Bottle in the hot sterilized jars.

The recipe is very variable:

You can use just about any sweet fruit in place of the mangoes, (though I do think mangoes make the absolute best chutney).  This time I added a few tamarillos just because I had them, but apples, pears, peaches, plums and apricots also all make good chutney. You can use over or under ripe fruit – under gives you a better tart edge, over gives you a jammier chutney.  I like under better.

You can use just about any vegetable as well as or in place of the tomatoes, but if you use a non-acid vegetable, you should increase the amount of vinegar.  I added half a tromboncino and half a small pumpkin to this one.

You can increase or decrease the amount of chili. This time I left out the cayenne but  doubled the chili for a hot-sweet chutney.

You can use sultanas or any other dried fruit in place of the currants, or leave them out altogether (though I do think the little pops of sweetness add to it).

You can increase or decrease the ginger and garlic and onion (though I do think the essence of a good chutney is that sweet-hot-acid balance, so you need some onion and ginger at least).

You can vary the spices. This time I added a couple of teaspoons of nigella seeds to bring up the peppery taste.

You can vary the herbs .  This time I used lime basil in place of coriander, but I’ve also used Vietnamese mint, Thai basil and mint.

You can decrease the amount of salt.  Salt is not the major preserving agent in chutney, so it is just for the taste really, but it’s all about balance so a bit of salt is good.

But there are bits you can’t change:

The vinegar is important.  Chutney needs to be acid enough to preserve safely (and “safely” means safe from the risk of botulism, so it’s a big safely).  So you need two cups of vinegar if you use tomatoes, more if you use a non-acid vegetable.

The sugar is important. You can decrease it a little bit if your fruit is ripe and has its own sugar and you have included a sweet dried fruit like currants, but the sugar is needed both to help it thicken and set, and to preserve it against mould.  The sugar works with the pectin in the fruit to give chutney that jammy consistency, so if you use a sugar substitute, your chutney might be runny.  It also helps with the preserving – not as vital as the vinegar but useful to extend the shelf life.  You only eat a very small amount of chutney as a condiment, so unless you are really religiously avoiding sugar, add the sugar. If you are avoiding sugar altogether, make just enough to use fresh.

The cooking time is important.  You need to cook it until it is thick and jammy, (both for a good chutney texture but also to preserve it safely) and then bottle it straight away in hot sterilized jars. (Be very careful – hot chutney or jam makes the worst kind of burn).

Home-made chutney is one of those things that is so different to the bought kind that it makes a good gift. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to a whole range of recipes.  These are the ones I’ve linked back to the recipe with over the last couple of years of blogging, but it works with any kind of curry or vegetable patties or slices.




Since I’ve discovered roasting the chilis and garlic first, harissa has become one of my very favourite things to do with the summer chili glut.  It’s fast and easy to make, and though it’s spicy hot it’s not raw –  it’s also complex and interesting with lots of depth.

I’ve made faster recipes that skip the roasting step, but the roasting really does change it and is worth doing.

Harissa is wonderful as a dressing on all kinds of warm vegetable salads.  Try tossing  grilled or roasted  zucchini or pumpkin or  beans with a teaspoon of harissa.   It’s wonderful with a teaspoon full added to mayonnaise or yoghurt as a dip or sauce for felafels or patties.  It works really well as a rub on practically anything you barbeque.  Kangaroo steaks rubbed in harissa (teaspoon of harissa per steak on a board, rub the steak in it, let it sit for 10 minutes or so, then quickly fry) are spectacularly good.  Add a tomato salad and a cucumber raita, and maybe some barbequed sweet corn on the side and it’s the perfect barbeque dinner.

The Recipe:

Freshly made harissa will last in the fridge for a long time, they say as long as 6 months if you use a clean spoon to get it out and add a layer of oil over the top each time you use some.   This recipe makes four small jars or two medium ones or one large one, about 500 grams net.  The recipe scales up easily if you have more chilies.

Unless you are just making a small batch to eat straight away, it will help the harissa last if you first sterilize your bottles by boiling them for 15 minutes, or pressure cooking for 5. (It also helps if you bottle in small jars so you can open one at a time).

Deseed 400 grams of chilies (that’s 400 grams before you deseed them).  Use gloves, (or if you touch any sensitive part of your anatomy for hours afterwards, you’ll so wish you had). Harissa is hot but with a lot of complexity and you only use a little at a time, so you can use quite hot chilies in it. I use my Bishops Crowns.

Halve 200 grams of cherry tomatoes (or quarter larger tomatoes).

Peel 4 or 5 cloves of garlic.

Spread them all in a single layer on a baking tray.  If they don’t fit in a single layer, separate them and put the tomatoes on their own tray.  You want them all to roast rather than stew.  Sprinkle over 3 teaspoons of coriander seeds, 3 teaspoons of cumin seeds, and 1 teaspoon caraway seeds.

Roast in a hot oven or under a grill for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring as needed, until the seeds are starting to pop, the tomatoes are starting to shrivel, and the chilies are starting to char in spots.

While they are roasting, in the bowl of your food processor, put the juice and rind from a lemon and a good teaspoon of salt.

Tip the roasting tray in and blend the mix, scraping down the sides a couple of times, until it is semi-smooth.

Then, with the food processor running, slowly pour in half a cup of good olive oil, so that the mixture emulsifies and goes thick and a bit creamy.  You can make it even thicker and creamier if you like by adding more olive oil but to my taste half a cup is just right.

Scrape the harissa with a clean spoon into the warm bottles. Add a thin layer of olive oil on top and store in the fridge.



sundried tomatoes

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and when life gives you a heat wave, make sundried tomatoes.  Last year I sun dried the principe borghese and made the yellow cherries into passata.  The flavour of the passata was good but the yellow colour was just a bit too odd for many dishes.  This year I thought I might try sun drying the yellow ones and making passata from the red ones.  We have more yellow than red too, which is a good thing, because I find sun dried tomatoes more useful than passata.

I wrote about this method for sun drying tomatoes last year. Threaded onto bamboo skewers over dark plates, and left on the dashboard of the car, parked in the sun, windows up, they dry in this weather in a single day.  The threading is a little bit laborious but it means you don’t have to turn them and they get air all the way around.

I have a plate of basil, oregano and garlic chives out in the sun too, and a couple of clean jars .  I shall pack the dried tomatoes with the dried herbs into the solar sterilized jars and cover with oil from the olive jars. They’ll last like that on the shelf right through next winter.  It’s low work, no energy cost, gourmet product preserving.

That bowl of chilis from the last post yesterday became this:

dried chili

A half a  teaspoon of that in a big pot Chili Beans makes them nicely spicy.

The heat wave is not comfortable, and quite scary in its preview of the “normal” to come.  But at least there’s some good can be made of it.






My glut crop this week is chilis.   The chooks get bucketfuls. They like chilis.  Birds (all kinds) have no receptors for capsaicin, so they’re immune to chili heat.  An evolutionary strategy from chilis to get their seeds spread I guess.  There are some chilis in my garden from about November till well into winter, but this is about the peak of the season when I make Chili Jam , Pickled Chilis, Tamarillo and Chili Sauce, Kasundi, and Dried Chilis and Chili Powder so I’ve got something to add some spice to late winter and spring cooking.

But there’s a limit to my enthusiasm for preserving.  I find it easier most of the time to organise my gardening to have something fresh than it is to preserve, and better in all sorts of ways.  I never freeze or bottle vegetables or fruit these days.  Having a tiny freezer in my tiny fridge is part of it – fridges are electicity guzzlers. If I calculate in the cost of electricity or gas to bottle or freeze the saving starts to disappear rapidly.  But mostly it’s because I’ve learnt that they tend to stay in the freezer or on the shelf whilever there is a fresh alternative.  Even when my garden is a tribute to neglect, the way it is right now, there is always something fresh that I’ll go for in preference to the frozen or bottled produce.

Once I have some chili hot condiments for us and for gifting, and some dried and pickled chilis for adding some heat to cool-of-the-year dishes, I still have bushes full of chilis.  Chilis Rellenõs are a really good way to use lots of chilis in a party plate.  They are astonishingly not-hot for something made with whole chilis.  The oil in the frying and in the cheese filling mellows out the chili heat so that even people who are not red-hot spice lovers go back for seconds and thirds.

The Recipe

Makes two dozen Bishop’s Crown chilis.

Wear gloves, or really remember not to touch your eyes for hours, to deseed  your chilis.  Cut the top off each one and pull out the seeds. I use the blade of a thin knife to swivel round inside, then rinse the seeds out under running water.  Make the hole as small as you reasonably can, so the filling stays in.

The Filling:

Separate two eggs.  Keep the whites for the batter. (You may find it a little easier to whisk the whites if the eggs are a day or two old – very fresh eggs can be a little harder to whisk).

Blend the yolks with some cheese.  I use 80 grams of  feta and 4 dessertspoons of cottage cheese, but you can use whatever mixture of cheeses you like.  You are looking for a smooth filling the texture of cream cheese.  Add a cup of herbs and blend in. My first choice is lemon basil, mint and dill – all cool herbs.  But again, lots of substitutions are possible.

Use a teaspoon and your thumbs to fill the chilis.

The Batter:

Beat the egg whites with an egg beater until they form soft peaks. (This will really truly take a matter of seconds).

Sift two-thirds of a cup of plain flour or besan with a pinch of salt.  If you use wholemeal flour, discard the coarser bran you sift out.

Mix the sifted flour with two-thirds of a cup of milk to make a batter that’s just a little bit runny, then fold the batter into the beaten egg whites.


Heat about 2 cm of oil with a high smoke point in a heavy bottomed fry pan.  (I use light olive oil for frying like this.)

Dip each filled chili in batter, coating it completely, then drop it into the hot oil.  They will take just a few minutes each to cook, and it’s best not to overcrowd the pan.  Use tongs to turn them so they brown on all sides, then drain on brown paper.

They’re at their best served hot, with a cold drink and some good conversation (or salsa music!)



sweet corn with chili lime dressing

My glut crop this week is sweet corn – the last round of sweet corn for the year.  Sweet corn is one of the trickier crops for a home gardener.  What goes wrong?

It can fail to pollinate if there are too few plants in a block – the pollen from the flowers on one plant must fall onto the silks on a corn cob on a neighbouring plant for it to set seed.  Otherwise you get odd looking cobs with only a few kernels.  Warm dry weather at pollination time, and enough plants all bunched together to get a nice mist of pollen in the air is ideal.  But to have a serious block of corn plants close enough together to get good pollination takes a serious amount of soil nutrients (specially nitrogen) and water.  It is also a C4 plant, so one one of the few garden crops that can use all the sun you can give it.

The other problem with a serious block of corn plants is that you get a lot of sweet corn, all at once.  Luckily  corn on the cob is made for barbecues.

The Recipe:

Pick the corn as close as possible to eating time.  As soon as you pick it, it begins turning sugars into starch.

Soak the cobs, husk and all, in a sink or a bucket of water for a few minutes, just to get the husk wet all the way through.  Then put the cobs, in their husk, on a hot barbecue.  Cook, turning with tongs, for about 15 minutes till the outer layer of the husk is charred and the corn is hot all the way through.

Provide salt, pepper, butter, lime juice, and finely grated cheese for dressing.  My favourite dressing is Chili Lime Butter, below, and this is the only few weeks of the year when chilis, limes, and sweet corn are all in season together.

Chili Lime Butter

Blend together equal amounts of butter and olive oil.  Blend in chili, lime juice, lime zest, and salt to taste.  I like about one lime (juice and zest) and two medium chilis to each cup of butter-olive oil mix, but just keep adding and tasting till you get it to your taste.




The glut crop this week was tomatoes.  This time of year we eat a lot of fresh tomatoes, practically every meal, and use fresh tomatoes for cooking.  That usually gets through most of them with some to give away fresh to friends, family, visitors.  I bottle some as passata, and sun dry some when the weather is hot and dry, and oven dry some late in the season when I have the wood stove going so it doesn’t cost fuel.  But fresh is so much better than even home preserved, and I am lucky enough to live in a climate where I can get at least some cherry tomatoes for at least  nine months of the year, from late September right through to late June. And in mid to late winter it’s citrus season, so there are fresh lemons and limes and tangelos that fill a bit of that sweet-tart spot.  Preserves have to really pay their way in my kitchen!

But the wet weather at the moment is causing my tomatoes to split, so I have to use them straight away.  Kasundi is a good way to make bottling tomatoes good enough for gifts and treats, worth the $5 or $6 a jar they would be worth if you paid yourself for the time it takes.  It’s a rich, spicy but not too hot, tomato sauce, great with eggs or baked beans (or eggs and baked beans!), or with dhall or dosa or on bean burgers or kangaroo burgers or a sandwich with cheese.  And all the other major ingredients are in season now too.

The Recipe:

Put some jars and their lids on to sterilize by boiling for 20 minutes or pressure cooking for 10.  The recipe will make 4 medium jars like these, or around 1.7 kg.

Use a food processor, or a mortar and pestle, to blend to a paste:

  • 120 gm ( a cup) of peeled and roughly chopped ginger
  • 30 gm (¼ cup) of peeled and roughly chopped turmeric (or 2 big teaspoons of powder)
  • 1 whole corm of garlic (8-10 cloves) peeled
  • chilies – depending on how hot your chilies are and how hot your taste is.  I like spicy kasundi, so I used about 25 Brishops Crown chilis
  • 3 big teaspoons smoked paprika
  • enough vinegar to make a paste

In a big pot, put a little olive oil and add:

  • 5 big teaspoons brown mustard seeds
  • 3 big teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 3 big teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 big teaspoon nigella seeds (Or substitute cracked black pepper)

Cook until the seeds start to pop, then add the ginger-garlic-chili paste.  Cook, stirring, for a few minutes, then add:

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves
  • 1½ kg tomatoes (or substitute mangoes and/or tamarillos for up to ½kg of tomatoes). I used my yellow tomatoes (which is why it is more yellow than most Kasundi you will see) with 4 tamarillos and a couple of ripe mangoes.
  • ½ cup (packed) brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons salt

Simmer, stirring occasionally, for around an hour, until it is thick and sauce-like. A good tip is to put a metal soup ladle or enamel cup in the pot so it is sterilized too.  Then you can use it to ladle the kasundi into jars.

Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.  Check that the lids pop in before storing. It will last on the pantry shelf for a long time, longer than you’ll ever hold off from eating it.



spicy beans

My glut this week is green beans.  Beans are never usually in glut.  All those we don’t get round to eating green are just left to mature, then shelled, dried and stored. But as many of you will be aware, it hasn’t been good drying weather in northern NSW this week!

The poor drying weather led to the platter rationale too.  We were all flooded in over the weekend, so we invited neighbours for a curry night.  Curry nights are a great kind of potluck dinner, needing no co-ordination, and allowing people to go simple or as gourmet as they like.  Sue brought a tray of kangaroo samosas and Camilla brought stuffed chilis as entrés, Brett brought papadams, Helen brought a sweet potato and vegetable curry,  and I made a tromboncino curry, a Cucumber Raita, Green Mango Pickles in OilHot Mango and Tomato Chutney, and these spiced green beans.  A real feast, put together two flooded causeways away from the nearest shops,  using just garden and pantry provisions.

The Recipe:

You need a large, heavy fry pan with a lid.

Green beans are like octopus – they have to be cooked really fast, just blanched, or long and slow. This is a long and slow recipe. It takes 20 minutes, but it takes all of that for the flavours to meld.

Chop and lightly fry a large onion in a little olive oil.

As soon as the onion softens, add 500 grams of green beans, stringed if necessary but left whole.

Put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down to medium low, and cook for 10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often to stir.

Then add

  • 2 heaped teaspoons of grated turmeric (or one of dry)
  • 1 big teaspoon of finely diced chili
  • 3 big dessertspoons of shredded coconut
  • a good pinch of salt

Stir them in, put the lid back on, and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. It will tend to stick more, with the coconut, so you will need to stir frequently.

Taste. You may need to add more salt – they need a bit to balance.

They’re good as a plate in an Indian feast, or as finger food on a platter.



ginger, galangal and turmeric

Aren’t they pretty?  I was picking for an Indonesian style curry – ginger, galangal, turmeric, lemon grass, chili, Vietnamese mint (and I added  – Kaffir lime leaves and garlic as well) and I couldn’t resist the photo.  Add this spice base to an oily sauce and you have a wonderful curry sauce for fish or meat or poultry or vegetables.  Traditionally coconut milk is used for the creaminess, but that’s a bit out of my climate range and I avoid cans except for special occasions. I use the also traditional candlenuts or the less traditional macadamia nuts or cashews, or yoghurt, or just an extra splash of a nice flavoured oil  in place of coconut milk to give the sauce its creaminess.

In my subtropical climate, all these grow easily. The ginger and turmeric die right back over winter, so much so that I have to mark where they are or I lose them.  They re-sprout as soon as the weather gets warm and wet enough.  I had to try out a few varieties of ginger to find one that worked, but now it is well established and comes back every year.  They just like warmth and water. The Bishops Crown chilis are a medium hot chili growing on a short-lived perennial bush about 1.5 metres tall.  They are fruit fly prone, but so prolific the fruit flies can have most of them, and the chooks just get an extra protein source.  The lemon grass is a perennial clumping grass. I have to split the clumps every year or two or it outgrows itself.  The Vietnamese mint is a very hardy perennial running herb.  It runs, but not too far, so it doesn’t become a pest. It needs a severe pruning back every year too, or it outgrows itself.  The kaffir lime is a small citrus tree, suited to pot growing if you don’t have a lot of room.

The whole set is very nicely suited to a small garden in the subtropics, and perennial herbs and spices like this mean you can magic dinner out of  a fridge that is pretty well empty.