Like most Irish kids of our generation, chillies, spicy food, heat were never really big aspects of our formative eating experiences.
I guess hot food is something we all need to go on a journey with to appreciate, a bit like olives, oysters and caviar.
Just like the latter three things, hot food becomes addictive the more you eat it.
Your tolerance to the level of heat will also slowly increase the more you raise the bar for yourself.
We still have our limits however, often shying away from ordering curries on a menu with more than two chillies next to it.
Heat is something for us to be managed, controlled and used appropriately.
We have our own semi native forms of adding heat to food such as horseradish and mustard.
Both ingredients being brought to this island so long ago that they qualify as native, kind of like the potato.
The heat from these are earthy, deep and good for clearing the sinuses but in our opinion don’t really compare to the bright, exotic, sunshine hotness of a chilli, pure sharp pungency in varying degrees.
There are so many varieties of chillies, each with their own level of heat and flavour.
Chillies come in different colours, sizes and shapes, the general rule being that the bigger the chilli the less hot they are, although as i’m sure we have all discovered, even chillies of the same variety can have different levels of heat in them.
The common ‘red’ and ‘green’ chillies sold in supermarkets will work fine for these recipes and tend to cater pretty well to our sensitive pallets, being pretty mild.
We did a bit of research and came up short as to what variety these red and green chillies actually are, but we suspect they are something similar to a Serrano chilli.
In the little garden greenhouse in Currabinny we grow a few varieties such as juicy bell like jalapeños, wicked hot habaneros and the generally versatile cayenne.
For the following recipes we generally used the milder cayenne peppers as we didn’t want the dishes to be overpoweringly hot.
The recipes will still pack a considerable punch however so if you don’t like it too spicy, you can always use less chillies or scoop out the seeds and membrane.
The mixture of different spices, flavours and textures to this pickle makes for a truly heady experience.
This is best eaten a few days after pickling when the peppercorns have softened and the flavours intensified.
When we make a good batch of this it rarely lasts very long, being truly addictive.
The chillies are a crucial ingredient, giving their heat to bring everything together and offsetting the very aromatic fragrant flavours of the fennel, cumin and peppercorn.
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
5 curry leaves
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
½ teaspoon of fennel seeds
150ml cider vinegar
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
2 red chillies, finely chopped
pinch of seasalt
4 garlic cloves, crushed
50g ginger, peeled and chopped
100g soft brown sugar
3 tablespoons of rapeseed oil
Peel and grate the carrots in a large bowl.
In a large pestle and mortar, grind all the ingredients for the paste together until smooth and pungent.
Heat the oil in a large heavy based saucepan and add the cumin and mustard seeds, cooking for a few seconds until you hear the seeds start to pop.
Add the curry leaves and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the spice paste next and cook for a further two minutes before adding the apple cider vinegar and bringing to a simmer.
Add the carrots and stir well to coat.
This is our favourite way to preserve the fresh chillies and horseradish from the garden in Currabinny.
It is super simple, uncomplicated and goes with almost anything in need of a little heat.
We especially like to drizzle this over fried eggs in the morning.
We usually use just regular red chillies which grow in the greenhouse but you can experiment with hotter varieties if you dare.
10 red chillies, deseeded and sliced thinly
3 garlic cloves
Good pinch of seasalt
3 teaspoons of freshly grated horseradish
100ml of cider vinegar
Sterilize a glass jar or maybe two glass jars depending on their size, you can do this either by washing them in warm soapy water, rinsing them in boiling water then placing to dry in a preheated oven at 120 degrees celsius for 15 minutes or apparently washing them on the highest setting on your dishwasher works too.
Heat a heavy bottomed saucepan, add chillies, garlic and a splash of water.
Simmer until tender and almost all of the water has evaporated.
The fumes off this will be quite something so try not to breath this in or it will really get in your throat, extractor on high.
Put the softened garlic/chilli mixture into a food processor and blitz until smooth.
Return this paste to the pan along with the cider vinegar, salt and horseradish, cooking until tender and well blended.
Pour the sauce into the sterilised jar or jars and close firmly.
This will keep in a cool place for months or even years.
Tofu is too often thrown into dishes as a poor substitute to meat.
Limp, wobbly and oftentimes bland, tofu is a difficult ingredient to work with.
In this recipe the Tofu is cubed into bite sized pieces, covered in coarse cornflower and fried in rapeseed oil.
This method ensures the tofu holds its structure and soaks up flavour at the same time.
There is a lot of chillies and a lot of garlic in this recipe, but trust us, it is a punchy yet well balanced sauce; the black pepper, sugar and soy sauce providing a contrast to the strong chilli and garlic flavours.
Any good Asian market should have kecap manis but if you cannot find this sweet soy sauce you can actually easily make your own version by simmering soy sauce with brown sugar together until it turns thick and syrupy.
800g firm tofu
12 shallots thinly sliced
4 red chillies thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves crushed
3 tbsp kecap manis sweet soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 tbsp caster sugar
5 tbsp coarsely crushedblack pepper
16 spring onions chopped
rapeseed or other healthy vegetable oil
In a large pan or wok, heat enough rapeseed oil to deep fry your cubed tofu in (roughly 5mm up the sides).
Cube the tofu and dust liberally in the cornflour. Arrange plenty of paper towels nearby to catch the excess oil from your cubes.
Fry the tofu in a few batches until crisp and golden brown, removing them onto the paper towels when ready.
The cooked tofu can be set aside for now.
In a bowl combine with a whisk the different soy sauces with the sugar and black pepper.
Remove oil from pan and add butter to melt.
Add shallots, chillies, ginger and garlic cooking on a low to medium heat for roughly 15 minutes until soft.
Add the black pepper sauce and cook for a minute before adding the tofu to warm through. Lastly add the spring onions.
We like to serve this dish with steamed wild rice.