Lordy, it's been ages hasn't it? Apologies. I've been super busy getting ready for the launch of Sycamore Seeds, a children's cookery club I'm setting up with my husband James. We'll be at Hornsey Vale Community Centre on Monday afternoons from September 10th but are doing some Summer Taster Sessions before then on August 15th and 22nd. See the Sycamore Seeds page for more details.
OK. Plug over. What I actually wanted to talk about today was how I I’ve recently jumped on the fermenting bandwagon. Partly because fermented things are straight up delicious but insanely expensive to buy. And partly because I read Dr Michael Mosely’s The Clever Guts Diet. The book isn’t terribly well written (the good doctor is a bit sketchy on some details and not half as witty as he thinks he is) so I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. There are probably better things out there on the same subject, but it's interesting nonetheless. I didn’t know for example that there are neurons in the gut - a “second brain” about the size of a cat’s but arranged in thin sheaths along the walls of the alimentary canal! He’s also reasonably good on the different types of bacteria that live down there.
So, anyway, I finished it determined to get proactive about probiotics (basically the live bacteria in yoghurts, kimchi and other fermented things). And, becasue being preactive isn;t a thing, just to eat more prebiotics (fibre in vegetables, grains etc. that feeds the bacteria in your gut). So decided to get fermenting.
Some experiments have been successful (fermented slaws and krauts, particularly one with turmeric and chillies) and some less so (sweet potato tasted OK but was texturally a bit disgusting and slimy). But my favourite so far has been a fermented “harissa”.
I got the idea from the Winter issue of Saveur but their recipe required a dehydrator so this is a less complex version. It’s still delicious though and good on all sorts of things. I love it on my weekend brunch eggs, with grilled meat or fish, added to salad dressings or stirred into hummus. It keeps for ages in the fridge too and just carries on getting better so it’s well worth making a big batch. This makes a 500ml Kilner jar’s-worth. If that sounds like way too much then just scale it down accordingly.
- 10 red peppers
- 1 red chilli
- 3 garlic coves
- 1 litre warer
- 4 tbsp salt
- 1tsp coriander seeds
- 1tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1tsp cumin seeds
- 100ml olive oil
- 1tsp sweet smoked paprika
- 1tsp hot smoked paprika
- 2tsp dried chilli flakes
Core and deseed the peppers. Chop them into strips. Cram them, as tightly as possible, into a large jar (or however many receptacles you need) along with the fresh chilli and peeled garlic cloves.
Dissolve the salt in the water and pour over the peppers. They need to be completely covered. Weigh them down with a “pickling pebble”, small jar or plastic bag filled with water. Anything to keep the peppers from bobbing out of the brine and going mouldy. Leave to ferment for 1-2 weeks, tasting occasionally to see when it reaches your preferred level of “tang”.
When the peppers are fermented to your liking, drain them and put in a blender. Blitz to a paste and pour that into a sieve lined with a J-Cloth. Drain for 30 mins or so.
Meanwhile, grind all the whole spices in a spice grinder and put in a small saucepan. Add the olive oil, paprikas and chilli flakes. Heat gently until fragrant then allow to cool.
Return the red pepper paste to the blender and add the spice oil. Blend again until smooth and evenly combined. Taste and add salt if necessary. Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge and eat on everything.