By midsummer, many gardeners will have one major problem with chillies – there are too many of them! Turning chillies into paste is dead easy, so is freezing them. Making chilli oil is good fun, but drying them is sometimes harder than it might seem. So let’s look at what you can do with chillies.
1. Cook with them this weekend!
Use up some of your chillies this weekend with some spicy dishes. If you’re looking for something new to try, get the February issue of Burke’s Backyard magazine, on sale Australia Day, Monday, January 26, 2009 and on page 101 you’ll find Tracy Rutherford’s easy recipe for a prawn and watermelon salad with a lime and chilli dressing. It’s a fantastic seafood barbecue side dish, perfect for summer.
2. Make chilli paste
The classic Indonesian chilli paste is called ‘Sambal Ulek’, and you make it in a blender. Remove the stems from the chillies, then put them into a blender and whizz until chopped. Now add a few splashes of vinegar and a teaspoon of salt, and whizz again until it forms a paste. Take care when opening the blender jar and make sure not to inhale the ‘chilli vapour’ that escapes – it can be hot. Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge, and dollop out teaspoons of it as required in recipes.
3. Freeze them
Freezing chillies works well. Like many Aussie cooks, if you usually use your chillies chopped, without the seeds, do this preparation before freezing your chillies. Then pop your prepared chopped chillies into ice-cube trays, add just enough water to cover, and freeze. Once frozen, you can then tip the cubes into two freezer bags, for easier storage. When you need to use them, either thaw them out, or just add the chilli ice-block to the pot and it will melt quickly anyway.
4. Make Tracy Rutherford’s Roasted Chilli Oil
400g red chillies, stems removed
500mL extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a large baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Spread the chillies onto the tray, and roast until tender and browned in parts (see note on cooking time). Set aside to cool.
2. Place the chillies into a food processor and process until well chopped. Add the olive oil and process to combine. Pour into a jar, cover and leave to stand for 2 days to settle.
3. Line a large funnel with 4 layers of muslin. Place this into a large bottle and gradually add the chilli oil, allowing the funnel to empty each time, before adding more. Discard the solids and seal the bottle. Dilute with more oil to your taste. Store in a cool, dark place. Use chilli oil for cooking, in marinades and dressings, or as a dip with crusty bread.
Note: the cooking time will vary according to the size of your chillies – large ones will take up to 40 minutes, small one could be ready in around 20 minutes. Roasting caramelises the chillies and develops the flavour so it isn’t too sharp and raw.
5. Or you can try drying them, but be warned…
The traditional way to dry chillies is to sun-dry them. This works best in hot, dry climates (eg, inland Australia, Adelaide or Perth in summer) but it’s much trickier (and in fact, probably not worth it) in humid zones such as the East Coast, as the chillies tend to rot in the humid air before they dry out.
To dry chillies, lay out whole, unblemished red chillies in a single layer in a sunny spot. Ideally, put your chillies on a wire rack, so air can circulate underneath them. Bring the chillies in overnight, and put them out again each day. Drying times vary with the weather, but expect it to take a week at least, maybe more. An alternative way of drying chillies, which can look great, is to tie up strings of red chillies using string (attaching the string to the chillies’ stems), or even a needle and thread. Hang these up in the sun to dry.
Big tip 1: keep an eye on chillies that are drying, and discard any that start to look bad, so they don’t affect the other chillies. Green chillies are much harder to dry, so only attempt drying with red chillies.
On the East Coast, an easier way to dry chillies is in a dehydrator (Sunbeam makes a good one for around $100), but this method works best on red, ripe chillies and also on thinner-fleshed varieties. You’ll need to split open each chilli prior to drying in a dehydrator.
You could also try using an oven, but this needs trial and error to get it right, depending on the chilli variety you’re trying to dry. Try this method for starters: heat the oven to its lowest setting (say, 100°C) arrange the chillies in a single layer on a rack, and keep on checking them every half hour to see how they’re going. Good luck.
Big tip 2: you’ll know chillies have dried when they snap, instead of bend, in your fingers.