Saturday, 12 November 2011

Chillies- Harissa, Zhoug, Chilli Jam... and Roasted Peppers

Utterly unseasonal with the skies outside sitting grey on the land, the land thick with fallen leaves.  Chillies ache of Summer heat, of Mediterranean, Asian, Caribbean flavours and sit strongly in contrast with an English Autumn. 

But, I have been meaning to write about these fiery fruits Summer long, and recently those friends in Kabul found themselves in the ‘midst of a Chilli glut and sent the following question:.  Is there any chance you know what type of chilis these are in the first photo? we're going to try doing osmething with them because we have too many and they'll go to waste but not sure if theyll make good chili powder or good pickles.

A succinct response from Tweeter @Rhizowen of Radixpequin type C. annuum

Produce from a home in Kabul

So it was, yesterday I set to work with a pile of Chillies to try out some recipes:  Harissa, Zhoug, Chilli Jam.


Harissa is a Moroccan Chilli Paste.  Used in Tajines, Couscous, for marinades etc, it can also just be served as a spicy accompaniment to a meal.  There are a multitude of recipes, it can be raw or cooked, contain tomatoes, peppers or neither.  I briefly noted some Harissa recipes to accompany a Lamb and Fig Tagine here.  To my mind Harissa has to be very hot, very salty and full of Cumin.

Yesterday’s Recipe went thus:

Grill three small Red Peppers (or one large), twelve very small Plum Tomatoes (or equivalent), six cloves Garlic.  The Peppers should be turned, so they are charred on all sides, the Tomatoes just bursting and the Garlic's skin browning.  Meanwhile toast one and a bit tablespoons of Cumin Seed in a dry pan.  Peel the Peppers and remove seeds and stalks.  Pop the soft Garlic out of its skins.  Grind 2/3 of the Cumin in a Pestle and Mortar.  Blend Peppers, Tomatoes, Garlic.  Finely chop chillies (the amount of which has to be played about with to get the suitable heat).  I used two or three Scotch Bonnets and one long red Chilli. Put the whole lot, including the ground Cumin in a pan, bring to heat and simmer until nearly a dry paste.  Remove from heat and allow to cool, add remainder of whole toasted Cumin Seed, two teaspoons of Salt, douse with Olive Oil.  Stir the lot and taste, it should be very salty, slightly sweet, with a palpable texture.

Mine made yesterday was sublime.  Grilling or roasting the ingredients gives it a nutty sweet flavour behind the Chilli heat – I could eat it by the spoonful.  



Zhoug is a Green Chilli and Coriander paste from Yemen.  I made it a couple of years ago on Clare Island according to a recipe I found I thinking The Gate vegetarian cookbook.  Or, perhaps Denis Cotter’s sumptuous Café Paradiso cookbooks.  Either way, I couldn’t find same online yesterday, so went for a mishmash.  

Toast one tsp Cumin, one tsp Coriander seed, one Cardamon pod, one tsp Caraway seed.  Grind with a few Peppercorns in Pestle and Mortar.  Add three cloves of Garlic, grind.  Add this blend to a large bunch of Coriander, roughly chopped, stalks and all, a few sprigs of Parsley, Two Chillies (or according to taste) and juice of one Lemon.  I used Red Chilies as had no Green to hand.  Blend the lot.  Return to Pestle and Mortar, grind again adding coarse Salt and Olive Oil to taste.  Eat immediately – I smothered this zesty Chilli Coriander paste on my poached eggs this morning – a great kickstart to the day!  Whilst best eaten with Flatbreads, Olives and Yogurts, Hummus and Falafel, drinking sweet shots of Coffee, this paste can also serve as a base for spicy green dishes. 

If you wish to keep the Zhoug, it is best kept short-term in the fridge or for larger amounts, frozen.  Otherwise, keeping salt and oil content high, pop in sterilised jars cover with a layer of Olive Oil, store in a cool, dark place, and it should keep several months.


Chilli Jam

I had long planned to make a Chilli Jam recipe I had espied on An English Kitchen blog.  But, the day came and the recipe, blog, the lot, had vanished.  I was directed by a kindly Kentish Kitchen to another recipe here: Saladclub.  Altered it as is my tendency, and made Chilli Jam according to the following method:

Blend 1lb peeled Tomatoes, 3 Scotch Bonnets, 2 Red Chillis, 3 small red Peppers, 1 large Orange Pepper, 12 cloves Garlic, 4 in Ginger.  Put lot in Maslin pan, adding 4 tbsp Fish Sauce, 16oz Sugar, 300ml Red Wine Vinegar, and 1lb raw chopped Tomatoes.  Bring to boil, stirring occasionally.  When jammy pot in sterilised jars.

Mine is very hot indeed, you might want to reduce the Scotch Bonnets.  I am retaining half of the batch at that heat and adding another 1lb of Tomatoes to the rest to make a gentler jam.  But, delicious it is, sweet, with a thick jammy texture and the obvious Chilli kick.

A bite of sweet Chilli joy for coming winter days.


Chillies can also be dried against a sunny wall or window, then kept in a jar for when needed.  When dry they can also be rehydrated in warm water.  

Another, and very luxurious way, of storing vegetables is in the Italian manner by roasting or grilling them and jarring in oil.  Courgettes, Aubergines, Peppers and Chillis store very well this way.  I made a pot of grilled Peppers this Summer – see the pictures below.

N.B.  I have used Scotch Bonnets in these recipes, I was likely lured by their beauty.  They have a real biting heat that comes at the end of the mouthful.  If you find Chilli difficult  I would replace these with something milder.


Rumour has it that the Kabul Kitchen might soon commence blogging its own cooking ventures... with a mere scrape of ingredients, how to live it up in an ex-pat kitchen in Kabul... I'll keep you posted.  - Indeed it has already, see: Kabul Kitchen - The unlikely adventures of a war photographer in Kabul with no weighing scales...


  1. What a glorious feast of chilli ! I have two tiny pots of an unnamed variety sat on the window sill. I am inspired Olivia! I am definitely going to try making Zhoug - what a wonderful name, how on earth do you pronounce it? I am going to copy out your recipes and have a go at these.... quivers with delight xx Joanna

  2. Thanks Joanna! The Zhoug (pron: zoo-g I believe)can be played about with according to the spices you like. It is not dissimilar to a Mexican Salsa Verde at the base... I think best with lots of green leaf, lots of lemon, chilli and garlic-then the toasted spices give it the Middle Eastern depth.

  3. OOOOH, I have just eaten, but my mouth is watering...

    I remeber seeing a chili fiesta at West Dean College, where in a very pretty Victorian glass house, there is a handsome row of more than 150 varieties. All in pretty pots with hand written lables.

    My favourite was the Wrinkly Sweet Old Man variety! Ha!.

    Lots of love,

  4. Lovely, lovely, lovely... That harissa, especially, looks completely the business, so I'll be giving that + the zhoug a trial... Might lay off the Scotch bonnets, though!

  5. Thank you both for your comments... Aren't Chillies quite the most beautiful and photogenic fruits! Indeed, the Harissa is "the biz"... And I used the Zhoug in a Thai-Style Celeriac and Romanesco Curry last night - stunning fusion!


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