Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mouths on Fire

My dad tends a vegetable garden in a long, narrow strip of yard beside the house where I grew up. The soil is rocky. Every spring, when the earth has defrosted, he turns it over with a shovel and uncovers more rocks than the year before. It is as if, during the winter, the ground absorbs the snow and sleet and frost and transforms it into hard, grey stone. The plot is quite shady. Vegetables that crave full sun – like pumpkins and carrots – stubbornly grow, but do not flourish. Meanwhile, the rabbits and deer think the garden is for them, and happily pick and choose from the tender shoots on offer.

Maybe it is because of the garden’s trials and tribulations that I have such fond memories of it. I loved pinching suckers off of the tomato plants, and the green scent it left under my nails. I loved watching the worms squirm in the soil. And I, of course, loved the vegetables themselves – the plump tomatoes tossed in olive oil vinaigrette, the string beans chomped straight off the vine and the hot peppers I learned to handle with care.

When my dad goes shopping for hot pepper seedlings, he always asks the staff at the nursery, “Are these the hottest peppers you have?” Assured that yes, indeed, these are the hottest peppers around, he buys a few flats. Then, when the first peppers appear, my dad sautés them in olive oil. Some years, he scoffs, “Hot? You call these hot?” Other years, I can remember my dad and my grandfather sitting across from each other at the dining room table, a plate of sautéed hot peppers between them, tears streaming down their cheeks and giddy smiles on their faces.

My tolerance for heat is not as high as my dad’s, or my grandfather’s. That said, I do love food that emits a slow burn. Which is why, on our trip to Mozambique, I dipped practically everything I ate in piri piri, the country’s ubiquitous hot sauce. Piri piri was such a welcome change from traditional fare in Zimbabwe, which is typically spiced with salt (and lots of it) and nothing else.

The below recipe for piri piri comes from our friend Mariana, who hails from Mozambique. Far from the garlicky grilled shrimp and fish of the Mozambican coast, Mark and I have been dotting the sauce on fried eggs and pasta marinara, and simply spreading it on crackers. This piri piri isn’t so hot that it will bring tears to your eyes, but, I believe, it may put a giddy smile on your face.

Mariana's Piri Piri

5 milliliters/1 teaspoon olive oil, plus 30 milliliters/2 tablespoons
½ medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced, plus 1 clove

7.5 milliliters/1½ teaspoons mild curry powder
12 red chilies, chopped, ribs and seeds removed (keep a few in for hotter sauce)
5 milliliters/1 teaspoon salt (coarse sea salt is best)
250 milliliters/1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon

5 milliliters/1 teaspoon white vinegar

Heat 5 ml/1 tsp. olive oil over medium heat, and sauté the onion and 3 cloves of the garlic for five minutes. Stir in the curry powder and continue cooking until the onion is very soft, but not brown.

Using a large mortar and pestle, mash together the remaining garlic clove, the salt and the chilies.

In a small bowl, combine the onion mixture and the chili mixture with the lemon juice, lemon zest, white vinegar and remaining olive oil. Pour into a sterilized mason jar. (Make sure there is no water in the jar at all.) Seal tightly and let sit in the sun for one week. Keep in the refrigerator after opening.

Options: I made a second piri piri using green chilies and added 30 milliliters/two tablespoons fresh coriander and one kiwi (peeled) to the chili mash. Mariana said you can use mango instead – that is what she does.

The photo below was taken at Cinco Portas on Ibo Island in Mozambique, where they make the piri piri simply with lemon, salt, chili – and the sun.


Anita said...

Oh I love the mango piri piri! A bit like mango chutney! I might have to wait till next year though...or do you think frozen mango pulp might work too?

I hope things have 'normalized' some what and that you are able to get your milk and cheese along with the bread and flour.

neroli said...

Dear Carolyn, as always, your words and the images that they evoke are so very pleasing.
I know exactly that giddy smile---and I've always been fond of that strong, green vegetal odor of those velvety tomato vines.
(childhood dreaming)

Been thinking of you---it's good to visit with you here.
Take good care.

Amy said...

I stumbled across your lovely blog this morning. I am an American living in Kuala Lumpur currently, but spent 4 years (right after the war) living in Harare. I miss it still! How bad are things really?

Jeanne said...

My husband absolutely adores piri piri and puts it on absolutely everything - a bit disheartening for me as the chef! I've never tried making my own but I'm sure he'd like to give it a try :)