Posts tagged chilli
Fermented Harissa

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.

fermented harissa hummus

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.


Fermented Harissa

  • 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.

Sycamore Smyth X BAM Bacon (Part 1)

In which Christmas comes early, I make pancakes and listen to podcasts...

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty festive. The Christmas Forest tree shop has arrived in Finsbury Park, my husband James has started practising carols on the piano and I’ve got a variety of yuletide feasts to plan for both private and corporate clients.

BAM bacon

Plus I was lucky enough to receive an early present from my friends at BAM Food who produce a range of hand-rubbed, hot-smoked bacon and were kind enough to send me some of their superlative rashers.

You obviously don’t need to guild the lily with bacon as good as this - it makes a fabulous, no-frills sandwich that would see off even the harshest hangover - but I thought it might be fun to create a couple of recipes with a little more to them whilst still giving pride of place to the pork.

I know BAM's co-founder, Jon Doody, from the UK's Chilli Cook Off scene, over which he has presided since 2012. He'd sent me some of their "Naked" bacon but also Chilli and Garlic flavours too so, knowing he's a man not to make false promises when it comes to spice, I couldn't resist starting with the chilli bacon. It's got a kick for sure, but a coquettish chorus line can-can rather than a roundhouse. 


My early twenties were days when culinary ambitions were often dashed the constant mess and undone washing up of communal kitchens. Back then, a favourite low-maintenance dinner option was a baked sweet potato, the insides with a pinch of chilli flakes and plenty of butter, with a couple of rashers of crisp bacon on the side. This combination of sweet, spicy and salty ticks a lot of boxes for me and I the components seemed ripe for rejigging into a riff on an American breakfast classic.

(Chef’s note: Unless you can be bothered to get up and cook the sweet potatoes from scratch in the morning, I’d do them the night before. You can peel and boil them but baking is probably least fuss. Once they’re soft just slit the skin and scoop out the insides.)


Sweet Potato Pancakes with BAM Chilli Bacon and Maple Syrup (makes about 10)

  • 200g cooked sweet potato
  • 1 egg
  • 200ml buttermilk
  • 50g butter, plus extra for frying
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • ¼tsp bicarb
  • Pinch salt

To Serve

  • BAM Chilli Bacon
  • Maple syrup
  • Butter

Set the oven to 100°C - you'll need it to keep things warm. Cook the bacon first and pop it in there on on a kitchen paper-lined plate. Puree the sweet potato or pass it through a sieve into a mixing bowl. Add the egg and buttermilk. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, letting it brown slightly, then tip into the bowl too and whisk 'til everything is well combined. Put the dry ingredients in another bowl and sift over the sweet potato mixture. Gently fold together - it’ll be more like an airy, loose cake mixture than the kind of liquid batter you’d make for Shrove Tuesday. Put the frying pan back on a medium heat and add spoonfuls of the batter in flat dollops about four inches in diameter. Don’t crowd them in the pan or they’ll be difficult to flip - you’ll probably need to do them in two or three batches (keep cooked pancakes warm in the oven). Cook for a couple of minutes 'til golden brown on the bottom and beginning to set on top then carefully flip with a spatula and give them a couple of minutes on the other side. Make up a little stack for everyone, top with a knob of butter, add the chilli bacon and be generous with the maple syrup.

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

  • There’s a nice explanation on The Kitchn website about the difference between bicarb and baking powder. Leave out the bicarb if you prefer a more dense, Scotch-type pancake.
  • I’m not sure why you’d want a baconless breakfast but if you were going to leave it out and top the pancakes with yoghurt and fruit or something, a tsp of spice in the batter would be a good addition. Cinnamon or allspice are the obvious contenders.
  • The potatoes add a discernible but subtle sweetness. If you weren’t going serve them with maple syrup (although again, I don’t know why you’d do this) add a couple of tbsp of syrup or caster sugar to the wet ingredients.
  • In her examination of American-style pancakes, the always-reliable Felicity Cloake recommends half-and-half flour and cornmeal, a suggestion from The Pioneer Woman blog. Buckwheat might be an interesting alternative for a slightly nutty, wholewheat vibe. 

I’ll be back soon with another BAM-inspired recipe but in the meantime check out their website. They do a classic “naked” bacon as well as the flavoured versions and a selection of hot sauces too which will definitely be worth trying.

Before I go though, I thought I’d introduce a new section on the blog. I listen to an awful lot of podcasts whilst I’m cooking so thought it would be nice to include some recommendations.

Current Kitchen Listening: Two Shot Podcast

I discovered this in the Observer's recent podcast supplement and have now binge-listened most of the back episodes. The format is simple: Craig Parkinson, best known for playing Matthew "Dot" Cottan in Line Of Duty, puts the kettle on and chats to other actors. But he's got such a knack for intimacy that it's full of thoughtful insight and personal revelation.

Parkinson tends to steer away from specific credits, focusing instead on what got people started in acting and the things they've learned along the way. So although everyone's story is different, after listening for a while a pattern begins to emerge: early inspiration, difficulties overcome, the importance of collaboration etc.

He's a generous interviewer, giving his guests plenty of space to think and talk, but also inviting the listener into the confidences being shared. From his opening greeting - “‘Ello! ‘Ow yer doin’” - you feel genuinely welcomed.

Some of my favourites so far have been the episodes with Neil Morrissey, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Danny Mays but they've all been diverting in their own way. Incidentally, Sanjeev Bhaskar was my first ever celebrity interview as a young journalist. I was clearly nervous and he was very sweet to me but Parkinson makes rather more of their time together...