Sunday, December 12, 2010

January 31st., 2010 – Hot Peppers Preserve

January 31st., 2010 – Hot Peppers Preserve
This is indeed a rainy season. Some parts of the country call it Winter. It is some kind of winter down South too, as it has cooled substantially. At least for a few hours. It has been nice at night, that we can get good sleep. Usually, January and February get so hot and muggy that insomnia is a common thing. So we need to get a siesta every afternoon.
It rains everyday. This has brought losses to our agriculture, including my garden. All the garden goodies we had last year has not turned out. No wild cucumbers, watermelon, acerola, oranges, jackfruit, or sweet starfruit, as I have complained before.
My garden has been neglected for a while. The season is inapropriate for outdoor gardening – the heat or heavy rain damages many parts of a plant, bringing specially fungus. My olive tree has gone to a dormant state for the fourth time in less than a year. It lost all the leaves, but the branches are still alive. The passionfruit vine that grew vigorously and displayed many exotic purple flowers is now vegetating, after losing all the flowers and one fruit got attacked by some insect.
Summer time where I live is comparable to Winter in the Northern hemisphere. No much can be grown or harvested. All the leafy vegetable is very expensive. But living on a farm, even with much rain or drought, we always get something for our table.
The ground is covered with squash vines. Young and mature squash we can have everyday. Rain is proper for taro roots, which have been very present in our pots. Cooked with some sugar, soy sauce, ginger, and white onions, along with some meat, the stewed taro roots is in its prime. That’s the best time of the year for this delicacy. I can make taro root soup, seasoned with tomato e parsley. I am still to try the Hawaian dish called poy. I heard it can replace potato in any dish, including in gnocci and bread. I have not gotten that fancy yet.
We get okra for lunch and dinner. I am still about to make a dish from Bahia State (a Northern State very well known for its culture and culinary particularities) called caruru. It’s just like gumbo, okra stewed with dry shrimp, peanut, cashew nuts, and lots of spices and herbs such as ginger, cilantro, peppers, parsley, onions, with a touch of dende palm oil and a wild herb called caruru. Okra harvest is almost over, and I have not managed to get dry shrimp or cilantro, with much rain, we don’t get it to grow outdoors. Meanwhile, I cook okra by sauteeing with garlic, and sometimes I deep fry it whole. This way, I pour some soy sauce, fried garlic and fresh ginger on top. I can also make tempura, a Japanese dish, which is nothing more than deep frying okra cut in thin diagonal and steeped in cold batter.
Walking around the garden as the temperature was nice, I came across a hot pepper bush. A different kind from what I had before. I had sowed it several months ago, but for some reason, it has grown only now. It is called “fragrant hot pepper”. It is oblong and yellow when ripe. With some other kinds of hot peppers scattered around the garden, one of which was bird sowed, my daughter and I went for a task. We gathered five different types of hot peppers. Some big and red, some medium size and green, another thin and red, other was pill like size green, and the new star fragrant hot pepper. I soaked them in chlorine water for a few minutes, washed those throughly, and simply put them in vinegar and salt and in another bottle with vegetable oil. I kept them in a dark place, and in a few days, it should go to the refrigerator, specially the oil, as it may become rancid very quickly.
I don’t wait for the preserve to be ready. I eat all hot peppers raw with my meals. Today, I finelly chopped cayenne and the fragrant ones to mix in tomato sauce seasoned with raw garlic and basil. It was the base of my butcher’s made sausage spaghetti sauce.
In my refrigerator, I keep last years hot peppers preserve and sauces. One is made with vinegar, which resembles Tabasco sauce, and the other with cachaça, a typical alcoholic destilled drink made from cane sugar. The cumari (word in Indigenous language means “bird’s food) preserve that I heard is the best for our health. A woman even asked for some as it is beneficial against prostate cancer. Even though I don’t have to worry about this disease for myself, cumari is well known as a medicine, besides being a delicious addition to our food.
The preserves I make is not for eating the peppers, but for dripping some of the juice onto our foods.
My housecleaner, who also works at the restaurant down the road, is the one who taught me to eat fresh pepper with food. She exclaimed, “I had never seen a restaurant without a bottle of hot peppers! I don’t know why they don’t have any. “ As a hot pepper lover, she told me many stories. “Some Northerners, when go out, bring their fresh pepper in their pockets to have with a meal somewhere on the road, as this is an indispensable complement to one’s food.” She also told me to place two or three whole hot red peppers while cooking the rice. The rice won’t become spicy, and the peppers can be eaten along with it.
Brazilian cook the rice differently than most cultures, which tends to steam it. I would recommend using aged rice, like the Indian Basmati if Brazilian long grain type is not found. We drizzle some oil (or lard) into a deep pot and fry garlic with rice and salt. Only later, with the rice properly fried (but not brown), we pour some hot water over and let it steam. The amount of water is a bit less than we would use for steaming, as we like our rice very loose and firm (but not al dente). The rice turns delicious, and capable of being eaten alone. If hot peppers are added, either whole or chopped, it becomes one dish food. Many of us love egg fried easy over with a dash of hot peppers and soy sauce.
Unlike Indians or Mexicans, we don’t usually season the food with hot peppers. Rather, we leave it as a sauce (fresh or aged) or as preserve to be drizzled over our food. Not many people use dry flakes. Next time I have a big crop of cayenne, I am going to dry some. It is good added to spaghetti sauce (or to pizza like any other American).

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