I didn't knowingly taste chilli until I was in my twenties. We had Tobasco of course (it went into cocktails), piri-piri chicken from the barbecue and blow-your-head-off Vindaloo after a rough night out, but I'd no idea these things had anything to do with chilli.
The first time I saw fresh chilli was when I grew some from a packet of seeds. I'd seen the picture in Thomson and Morgan's catalogue and thought I'd give it a go. The little red and yellow dangly fruits looked so pretty. Only one seedling came up and the resulting bush produced one small green chilli, which a Taiwanese friend, unaware of the rarity of my precious chilli, popped into her mouth and ate like a peanut.
I only became interested in chilli when we adopted Li-Da, our Cambodian daughter. She was six months old when she left Cambodia, and was not yet on solids. But maybe her birth mother ate a lot of chilli when Li-Da was in the womb. I'm serious, there's a lot of recent evidence now about the influence of in-utero feeding, or maybe there is something in the theory of Folk Memory. But whatever the reason, Li-Da liked spicy food the moment she could chew and swallow. She could also use chopsticks before she could handle a knife and fork. Since she'd left Cambodia as a bottle-fed baby, this so amazed me that I took pictures of her, age two, deftly, one-handedly, eating beef stew and dumplings with chopsticks. It became her party trick and I was forever getting her to display her chopstick prowess until she got sick of it and refused to perform. By the time she was four, she'd forgotten how, and was as inept as the next child. But she kept her love of chilli.
Li-Da is 40 now and a terrific cook. She mostly makes Far Eastern food, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese or Chinese. Her flat smells of lemongrass, coriander, garlic, ginger, Thai basil. She's more likely to have Tamarind paste or ground Sumac in her cupboard than mustard or horseradish. Yet her brother, also a keen cook, and brought up eating exactly the same food — likes quintessentially English fare -- bangers and mash, chicken pie, fish cakes, roast beef. He has got over his horror of vegetables, but would still rather have meat-and-potatoes.
But back to chilli. Although I don't like fiery dishes, I could not now cook with no chilli at all. I put a teaspoon of chopped chilli into most stews, into anything with mince, like Bolognaise or sausages, into about half the salads I make and into a lot of fish dishes. I haven't a clue what the names of the myriad varieties of chilli are, or which are hot and which are mild. So I tend to buy them from a stall holder who actually grows them and knows which to avoid if you are a chilli wimp like me. Or I go by the symbol on the pack. I am a two-chilli max woman. My daughter is a five chilli one.
Last week I was filmed for a documentary giving three ex-prisoners a cookery lesson in London. They are members of my son's "club" Only Connect, for ex-offenders and their families, where they get support in getting a job, or the skills to land a job, and with rebuilding their lives while avoiding their old dodgy haunts and dodgier gang members.
I wanted to make Jambalaya, that spicy Creole rice dish usually made with prawns or pork and a lot of chilli-laden chorizo. But since a lot of my sons “clients” or, as he calls them, club members, are Muslim I thought I had better avoid the pork. And chorizo is made with pork too. So I got our butcher to make beef sausages with chorizo spices. And it was terrific. It tasted like a hot version of the South African banger, boerewors. It’s now the staple of my summer barbecue sessions. If you take the spice mixture into your butcher and ask him to make the sausages, with pork or with beef, he’ll probably agree if you buy a decent quantity. (Freeze the ones you aren’t going to use on a cling-film-covered tray, not touching each other. When frozen put them in a bag and help yourself to as many as you need.)
This is what went into three kilos of sausages:
Spicy Beef Sausages
Prep Time: 15 Min
Cook Time: 30 Min
Cooking Method: Bake
- 3 kilos ground beef
- 1½ tsp garlic powder
- 1½ tsp onion powder
- 1½ tsp cracked black pepper
- 3 tsp ground cumin
- ¾ tsp savoury season
- 1½ tsp oregano, dried
- 1½ tsp celery powder
- 1½ tsp fennel seed
- 1½ tsp chili flakes
- 3 tsp sage, dried
- 3 tsp marjoram, dried
- 1½ tsp turmeric, ground
- 1½ tsp paprika
- 1½ tsp salt
- Mix all spices together. Add ground beef and blend well.
- Roll sausage in 15 x 1 ½ inch logs, roll up with foil and close ends. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours to let flavours season.
- Preheat oven.
- Bake 50 for 30 minutes on cookie sheet WITH the foil on.
You can make patties and cook sooner if desired also beef can be 80/20 or lean also this is very good remove from foil and lightly fry...serve with breakfast, dinner, on a bun.