How to make hot sauce

hot sauce

I’ve noticed we sort of drift in and out of some habits, or practices, or hobbies… or whatever you want to call them. In theory I’m big on all sorts of DIY, especially in the kitchen, because making staples at home can really help save packaging, money and food–and condiments, like mustard, mayo and hot sauce, are easy to make.

However, it’s also really easy to fall to temptation and just buy a bottle of something at the store. So here’s a confession: we’ve fallen into sin around here, and haven’t made our own hot sauce in a good while.  We dodge the homemade when we know better. We know a thousand times better. And yet it happens. The jar ends up in the cart, and then in the fridge, and then in the back of the fridge, and eventually in the garbage.

What is appealing about the jar on the shelf? Why does our hand drift toward it? Perhaps we are enchanted by the evil hot sauce rooster.

Anyway, I just remedied the hot sauce omission. I made a chunky, fresh and not very hot sauce which brightens anything we slather it on, and I want to share the happiness.

Hot sauce is easy to make,  yet it can be controversial. I actually hesitated to post this, because I didn’t want to step into the hot sauce minefield. People are passionate about their hot sauce, about what constitutes “real” hot sauce, and can be more than a little insistent that their way is the True Way of the Sauce.

For some people, it’s all about the heat, and the provenance of the peppers used. For others, the sauce must be made only of peppers, for others, it needs the earthy notes of onion and carrot and garlic and even tomatoes. For some it is fermented, for others, stewed, and for some, raw. For some, sugar is a necessity, for others, a blasphemy.

The basic technique I’m going to describe makes a simple sauce with nothing in it but peppers, vinegar and salt, and it is fermented to bring out the flavor. I don’t subscribe to any particular school of sauce, but this is the easiest sauce to make for my purposes.

The outcome of the recipe depends mostly on your choice of pepper, but also a bit on how much vinegar you put in it, and what type of vinegar, and whether you strain it or leave it chunky.

We used fresh red peppers labeled Anaheim peppers (kind of like a red New Mexico chile), which are mild, and also some dried California peppers, which are also mild, but a little smokey. These peppers make your tongue tingle–they don’t burn. Our sauce is more like a mild salsa–enjoyable on everything, by everyone.  Later this summer if I get my hands on some good hot chiles, I’ll make a hot batch. Regardless of the heat, the technique is the same.

Hot sauce is improvisational and hard to mess up. I’d recommend not over-thinking it, but rather just throwing it together with whatever you have on hand, however it comes together. Trust me, it will be pretty good no matter what you do. It’s smart to take notes, though, so you replicate your successes.

(Root) Simple Hot Sauce

Makes about about 2 cups.

Takes up to a week to make, but only five or ten minutes of actual effort.

You’ll need:

  • About 1 lb of fresh chiles of any sort, or the same weight in re-hydrated dried chiles, or a mix of the two, stemmed and roughly chopped. (Rehydrate dried chiles by soaking them in hot water for 10 min.) Keep the seeds, unless you want to decrease the heat.
  • 2 tablespoons of kosher salt or sea salt–salt without additives
  • About 1 cup of vinegar. Many people use distilled white vinegar, because the flavor is not intrusive. Some people don’t trust white vinegar, thinking it far too industrial a product. I’d say just know your brand–they do vary. If you prefer to use another type of vinegar, just factor in how the flavor will effect the sauce.

First ferment:

Mix your chopped chiles with the salt in a covered jar or bowl and let it sit out at room temperature for about 12 hours to soften and ferment–being a ferment, it doesn’t have to be precisely 12 hours. Leave it out “a good while.”

Add the vinegar and blend:

Add your vinegar to the peppers and blend using a blender, food processor, stick blender or a mortar and pestle. Here’s where the art comes in!

Add the vinegar sparingly as you mix, watching for the texture you want and well as the flavor. (Flavor is a little hard to judge, though, because it has more developing to do.) There’s no right or wrong texture.

Remember, you can always add more vinegar later if the sauce needs to be thinner, or more vinegar-y.

I like thick hot sauce. Some people like it thin. If you like it very thin, you can strain out all of the solids after the second ferment.

Second ferment:

Put the newly vinegar-ed sauce in very clean jar, put on loose lid on it, or rubberband some muslin over the mouth, and leave it to sit out for a few more days–and again, this timing is pretty flexible and will depend a lot on personal preference and ambient temperature.  Two days is probably the minimum amount of time you should give it, and you could let it sit out for as long as a week.

(BTW, I used our fermenting jar for this project–as I do for all our ferments. )

Just taste it now and then, and when you like the way it tastes, stop the ferment by putting it in the fridge.

At this point you can also make all your last minute adjustments, such as adding more vinegar, or salt, or (gasp!) sugar, or blending the sauce more, or putting it in a strainer and taking out all of the solids.

Note that your sauce may separate after sitting for a while, because it doesn’t have stabilizers or thickeners added to it. This doesn’t mean it has spoiled. Just shake it before using.

Keep it in the fridge, and use it up within a couple of months.

Citrus limetta, a.k.a. Sweet Lemon, a.k.a. Sweet Lime

sweet lime
A few years ago, Kelly discovered an unusual citrus, by mistake, at our local Armenian market, Super King. I say by mistake because what she thought was a lemon turned out to be Citrus limetta, labeled as “sweet lime”. Unlike a lemon, it’s sweet with lime flavor notes and a hard to describe exotic backspin.

Adding to the confusion, sweet limes are also known as sweet lemons and a host of other popular names in the Middle East and India where they are popular. Though somewhat watery, I like to eat them fresh, but they are most commonly used for juice. I should note that Kelly is not fond of the flavor.

This citrus is also not anything like a Meyer lemon which, while sweeter than a normal lemon, still tastes like a lemon.

From what little information I could find on sweet limes, there are several different varieties. You’re most likely to find this fruit in places with a large Iranian population. Should you find yourself in such a market, see if you can also score a medlar.

Saturday Tweets: Sheds, Roots and Odd Pie Shapes

Cob Oven Workshop with Ben Loescher

cob oven

Don’t miss this chance to learn how to make your own cob oven! Ben led the class the built the oven in our backyard (pictured above). Here’s the 411:

Ben Loescher will conduct a 4-day hands-on workshop this June, to teach you how to make your own earthen oven. Ben has built dozens of these ovens, and has great expertise in both adobe construction and earthen plasters and finishes. You will leave the class with the knowledge necessary to build an oven of your own, with materials that you may already have in your yard.

What Will I Learn?

  • Local considerations and the siting for your earthen oven
  • Soil and material selection, sourcing and testing
  • Foundations and oven base design and materials
  • Sizing
  • Sand Form and Oven Domes
  • Natural oven plasters and finishes
  • Firing and baking in your oven

4 Days: June 6, 7, 13, 14
Saturdays, 9am-4pm.
Sundays, 1pm-4pm.

Early-bird tuition $175

Register after May 15 $200

In Westchester/Los Angeles 90045 at the Community Garden at Holy Nativity:
6700 W. 83rd Street

Register at:
www.change-making.com/cob-oven-workshop/

Ben Loescher is a licensed architect, principal of Loescher Meachem Architects, and founder of AdobeIsNotSoftware, an organization which was founded in 2009 to inform, enable and advance adobe construction in California, and educate the public in the building and conservation of adobe structures.

This will be a hands-on, get-dirty workshop. Please wear clothes that you don’t mind getting really muddy, wear closed-toed shoes, and bring sun protection.

Coffee and nibbles will be provided at the beginning of each day. Please bring your own lunch.

Composting: Nothing is Wasted

[This post is part of our continuing series on crafting loving landscapes, organized under the Back to the Garden tag.)

Apropos to our discussion of food waste last week, our friend Alice sent us a clipping from the Wall Street Journal about industry response to the problem of food wastage. (Thanks, Alice!) It seems that appliance and household-product manufacturers have, through consultation and study, discovered that consumers feel deep-seated guilt about wasting food.

“It’s a guilt that doesn’t only have to do with money. It just feels wrong,” says Gaston Vaneria, vice  president of marketing for Newell Rubbermaid Inc.’s Rubbermaid consumer line, which includes food storage containers. “Consumers have the feeling of not being competent…”  (WSJ, April 22, 2015, D1)

Despite our guilt, according the WSJ, we’re wasting more food all the time. We’re wasting three times more than we wasted in 1960. That makes sense in lots of ways, including the advent of all these super-sized retailers with their perverse economies of scale inducing us to buy food in huge quantities, combined with, perhaps, a greater recent emphasis on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, but oddly, we’re somehow wasting 20% more now than we did in just back in 2000.

The response of the industry to our guilt is–of course–to offer us more crap to choke the landfills new consumer products to address our needs, everything from smart refrigerators which promise to keep veggies longer, to plastic storage containers with replaceable charcoal filters in the lids.

My response, as you probably predicted, is to suggest that we deal with our guilt and our rotten vegetables by first, trying not to be so wasteful, and second, by composting, because spoiled food is not the end of a journey, it’s simply the beginning of a new journey.

O, Compost, my Compost! It’s hard not to get sappy about my love for compost. If I could write a poem to compost, I would. And I don’t think I’m alone in my compostophilia. Many clear-headed, rational individuals who I know will get a little sentimental, if not downright metaphysical, when they talk about what their compost piles mean to them.

Forget that compost is the best way to keep green matter out of the landfills, to save space and reduce methane emissions into the atmosphere. Forget about the great good compost does for the life of the soil. Forget that compost is the alpha and omega of organic gardening, and that any good gardener doesn’t like to see so much as a carrot peel go to waste, because it seems you can never have enough compost. No, just forget the vast practical utility of compost and think about what it symbolizes.

Compost is the purest alchemy. It is the nigredo, the black matter of putrefaction, which is the first step on the path to creating the philosopher’s stone.

As we tend the pile, we see the scraps and clippings, recognizable at first, wither and dissolve slowly into the whole, and we think about our own individuality, our own fates, and the way our lives give back to the world.

We see how nourishment can come out of loss, how new experience rises out of past mistakes.

We see also the great cycle of life. Everything changes, but nothing is lost.

What can compost not accept? What can it not forgive?

Simply put, keeping a compost pile is good is as good for your soul as it is for your soil.

Waste Not

If you can’t keep a compost pile, agitate to make your city adopt more comprehensive “green waste” policies. Many cities have disposal bins for yard trimmings, which are composted at city facilities, but we need community composting facilities to capture and reclaim food waste from homes, schools, businesses and restaurants.

You also may be able to keep a worm bin if you can’t keep a compost pile, and we’ll talk more about those soon.

If you want to start a compost pile, check out this comprehensive, free pdf booklet from Cornell University on the topic.

I’d also recommend keeping your eye out for classes–free composting classes offered by various community agencies are pretty easy to come by, and sometimes they even come with free or discounted bins.

As you get into it, you’ll find there are different styles of composting. Don’t let this confuse you or put you off. The most important thing to remember is that you can find a method that works for you. Don’t get hung up on looking for the perfect solution, just start any way you can. You can refine as you go. Compost doesn’t mind.

And I’m not even going to talk about the…uh…fertile frontier of human waste composting here–but you know we’re always thinking about it!

On Being: The Grandeur and Limits of Science

IFF_2-3

No Root Simple podcast this week. Instead I thought I’d point you all to an interview with science writer and Institute for Figuring co-founder Margaret Wertheim. In this deep and profound discussion, Wertheim gets to the philosophical core of our current ecological/spiritual crisis. Along with her sister Christine Wertheim, they orchestrated a crochet coral reef that is touring the world. In June the coral reef will be on view in Minneapolis alongside Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester.

Baking Bread in a Casserole Oven vs. a Combo Cooker

71V58kIANBL._SL1200_One of the tricks popularized by Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe is using a Dutch oven to bake the bread. The Dutch oven harnesses the moisture in the dough to create a steamy environment. This allows the dough to rise rather than toast immediately. Commercial bread ovens (and some high-end home ovens) have steam injection systems that serve the same purpose. A Dutch oven is a lot cheaper, of course.

The trick is to get a loose and wet dough into a 500ºF Dutch oven without either burning yourself or smacking the loaf against the side of the pot. Some people first transfer the dough to parchment paper and then transfer that to the Dutch oven, (See Eric of GardenforkTV explain this method). Two years ago I finally broke down and bought a Lodge Combo cooker:

61mB9jx6oXL._SL1200_To bake bread in it, you use it upside-down. The dough goes into the frying pan part and the pot goes on top. In order to get an evenly baked crust in our old oven I’ve got to turn the pot periodically in the last part of the bake. And that’s the problem. The handles make that difficult. It’s not a big deal (I can twist the loaf in the pot), but I’ve concluded that I would have been better off buying the Lodge casserole pot pictured at the top of this post since there’s no long handles.

Incidentally, trying to steam a home oven by spraying the inside with water or throwing in a wet towel does not work as well, in my opinion, since a lot of that moisture is lost out the vent.

How to get free mulch

If you want healthy soil and healthy plants, you’ve got to mulch. Mulch is not compost–they’re often confused. Mulch is the dry, carbon-rich plant matter which you apply around your trees and shrubs to retain moisture, build soil and repress weeds. It’s also a good material for walkways and open spaces in a yard. Mulch can be made of leaf litter or straw or pine needles or many other things, but one of the most common types of mulch comes in the form of shredded tree trimmings.

Now, arborists and tree services are often happy enough to dump their shredded trimmings in your driveway, because this is often better for them than having to haul the trimmings to a disposal facility and pay a disposal fee. The problem is how do the tree services with mulch to give and folks who want mulch hook up?

A couple named Lori and Mark Russell are working on this problem. They developed a website and free app to put these parties in contact with one another. The app is in beta now, and they are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,500 to finish the app.

This is one of those projects which just makes good sense. It keeps valuable green matter out of landfills, saves miles on the road and tons of wasted fuel. It provides gardeners with much-needed mulch, which helps build soil, grow beautiful plants and sequester carbon. And it’s all free. What’s not to love?

Check out abouttrees.com

Or go straight to the Kickstarter page.