What to do when your hot pepper plant is proudly dangling 99 fireballs under your nose? If you’re growing your own, you know that hot peppers produce in abundance in these late, long summer days. In our garden, it’s the one crop that the birds, voles, squirrels and chipmunks don’t steal.
Most recipes use one or two fresh hot peppers at most, so I’ve gotten creative with homemade hot sauces, crushed red pepper flakes, and my latest obsession – sambal oelek. These add depth of flavor to dishes without adding sodium or calories. Use these to spice up your pizza sauce, package in jars for homemade gifts, and sneak heat into the most unsuspecting dishes. Beware – it’s addictive!
Homemade Crushed Pepper Flakes: A big perk of growing a diverse variety of hot peppers is creating custom blends of crushed pepper. Cayenne is the fan favorite, but we’ve also enjoyed the citrusy kick of lemon drop peppers and impressive heat of Thai peppers. If you’d like a milder flavor, try red jalapeño. Dehydrate cleaned, dry peppers on the lowest setting of your oven (170 degrees) for six hours or more, until all moisture is depleted and peppers are brittle. I prefer to use a dehydrator that I can put on our porch for the best ventilation. The key here is to avoid macing yourself – do not inhale the fumes and wear rubber gloves when handling peppers! You can quickly whir in your food processor for chunky flakes (seeds included), or pound in a sealed zip-lock freezer bag. It's that easy, fulfilling, and far better than that jar you've had in your spice rack far too long.
Homemade Chili Powder: Make your own spicy blend. Dry the peppers using the same steps above, except remove the seeds before dehydrating. Use a spice grinder for the finest finished powder. (Again, avoid inhaling and use rubber gloves. Trust us.)
Sambal Oelek: Thanks to a suggestion from our Editor, Scott Mowbray, my favorite pepper addiction stems from this spicy-sweet recipe. There are many variations online, so build the heat and sweet balance to your liking. I use a mortar and pestle to pound fresh cayenne or Thai peppers into a paste with salt, vinegar, and brown sugar. The only limit to its use is your creativity. Much like the Sriracha devotees, I use it on everything; batches of this chili paste go quickly at our table. Try this Carrot Salad with a Hit of Heat.
Lastly, a very popular recipe from our Cooking Light Garden is not for us at all. Pesky pests and furry thieves think twice about plants we’ve sprayed with homemade pepper spray. It’s a natural way to keep those beggars at bay.
Tell us. What do you do with a big batch of hot peppers?