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Pickled Chillies


I love chillies – but not in an immature “How hot can I take it?” way. I tried a Phal in a Pakistani restaurant 20 years ago and couldn’t see the point. My favoured chilli sensation is when their heat and combination with other spices begins to make the scalp tingle, without blasting the taste buds and masking any other flavours. The kick and warmth they give to a dish can be such a satisfying, and variable, experience it surprises me they didn’t really make their presence felt in the UK until the 19th C. Ginger, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, yes, for centuries. But not chillies. Perhaps someone knows why.

Whenever I see a batch on the reduced shelf in the supermarket I grab them, any that don’t get used before they begin to soften being pickled or put in a big pan of pasta sauce to be frozen.

The pickled chillies in the shops over here tend to be the Anaheim or banana varieties, long, tapering fruits, not too fiery, that can be eaten as a snack or with a salad. (I’m not including jalapenos – just a personal thing). I prefer to pickle bird’s eye, or Calcutta, chillies as they’re smaller, stronger and better suited to cooking.

2 or 3 handfuls bird’s eye chillies
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
A few black peppercorns
200ml cider vinegar
100ml water

Trim any long stalks from the chillies. While the other ingredients are gently simmering for 10 minutes or so, cut a small slit in each one and pack them fairly tightly – they float – into still hot, sterilised jars with, optionally, a peeled clove of garlic, a bayleaf and maybe a sprig of your favourite herb. I’ve used thyme, fresh and dried, with equally good results. Another option is to add a teaspoon of coriander and/or black mustard seeds to the vinegar, but I’ve kept this simple.

Pour over the hot pickling vinegar, including the peppercorns, screw on the lids and leave for three or four weeks to mature.

I use them in curries when I’m out of fresh chilli, as a pizza topping alongside pickled mushrooms, in pasta sauce or salads, anywhere you might use fresh chillies.

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Recipe Selection

Quick Japanese pickles These were featured in an episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest tv series.

Rhubarb Marmalade I first made this as a teenager, from rhubarb taken from my then girlfriend’s grandad’s allotment in Retford, which is now a car park.

Vegetarian “Haggis” Someone referred to this, unkindly I thought, as ‘vegetarian placenta’.

The Working Class Foodies collection A very good, ever growing collection of video recipes from a New York based brother and sister.

Recipes from the superb SavoryJapan website. The blog is worth a look, too.

Finally, one of mine –

Pickled Mushrooms

The commercial pickled mushrooms I’ve found in central/eastern european food stores (such as Babushka in Mansfield) have been disappointing. I don’t remember where I found the original basis for this recipe, but it is simple, adaptable and delicious.

Half pint cider vinegar
1 pint water
1 dessertspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
These quantities are variable, you need enough to cover the mushrooms you are pickling.

Bring to the boil then add –
black peppercorns, 5 or 6
grated rind of half a lemon
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
3 or 4 cloves of crushed garlic
3 or 4 fresh, dried or pickled birds eye chillies (red or green, red is a nice colour contrast)

Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes

Add sliced mushrooms and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Tip into a colander and leave to drain for a few minutes.

Pack into sterilised jars along with one each of the chillies and garlic cloves and cover with olive oil.

I make this whenever I spot cut price mushrooms on the market or in the supermarket. It should also work well with whole “fairy ring” mushrooms, although I have yet to try that.

In my experience, the jars keep for at least 2 months.

Lovely as an accompaniment, stirred into pasta/ pasta sauce or added to the toppings of home made pizza or even store bought pizza.

[Image from scorzonera’s fungi flickr set]

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