A Passion for Peppers

In an age of faddish interest in spicy foods and hot sauces, some people focus more on who can eat the hottest food (i.e. The Macho Syndrome) rather than how hot sauce can influence the culinary experience by enhancing flavors and nuances. Stores are filled with packaged spicy products with clever names and flashy labels, but this is a spicy side dish that you cannot buy in a bottle.

But first, let me give you the back story…

Growing up with my mother’s (a.k.a Bubbie Wise) excellent Ashkenazic-American cooking, I knew a lot from garlic and onion, but nothing about hot peppers and spices.

However, once the door was opened, I not only entered the room but made myself at home.

Based on the rabbinic principle of “b’shem omro” (literally “in the name of the one who said it” or giving credit where credit is due), my old college friend, Arnie Lewin, not only turned me on to cooking in my senior year at Indiana University, but turned me on to spicy food. The first two dishes that he shared with me were couscous with spicy vegetable sauce and Italian sausage and an Indian curry dish.

In 1971, the year after our graduation, we took our backpacks and hopped on an Icelandic Airlines flight to Luxemburg (that being the only cheap airline at the time).  We worked our way down from Europe to West Africa, via the Canary Islands. In Senegal, Gambia, and Ghana, the food we ate was very simple (roasted root vegetables, fish, and rice) but was always accompanied by some type of spicy hot sauce. The most memorable one being a hot peanut sauce that was served with fish and rice.

On the freighter from Barcelona to the Canary Islands, we met Ali, a Gambian who was returning to his home in Bathurst, and we ultimately ended up staying with his family for 3 weeks. During the first meal we ate together on the freighter, he took out a package of dried cayenne peppers and explained that he never went anywhere without them.

Today, when going to lunch meetings or dinner at friends’ houses, I often bring with me a bottle of hot sauce or fresh hot peppers to slice up. I keep a number of bottles of hot sauce by my desk and grab one if I feel confident I can successfully achieve the art of spicing up my meal while avoiding offense to my host. Some folks, knowing this about me now, even generously provide an assortment of spicy condiments.

My relationship with hot peppers was dramatically upgraded when I began gardening and growing my own back in the early 1970s.  I grow at least half a dozen or more varieties every summer. Some I dry, some I pickle, some I marinate, and some I use to cook with.

A couple of years ago, I had such an abundance of hot peppers, I was trying to figure out some new things to do with them and ended up creating this dish.  For this particular recipe, you can use a range of different peppers (jalapeños, serranos, chiles, cayenne, Thai, etc) but NO habañeros, their flavor doesn’t work in this dish.

So here I am gathered with our family in Los Gatos, California, for our annual Thanksgiving celebration. It is a collectively prepared feast, and my contribution this year is my sautéed hot pepper dish.

In a skillet, heat up a generous amount of olive oil (at least 4 tablespoons).

When it’s hot, put in one large onion, diced.

Then add at least 8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced.

Cook on a medium flame for ten minutes.

Add whole hot peppers with the stems sliced off (about 18, depending on their size).

Stir thoroughly and cover.

Cook for another 10 minutes.

Add kosher salt (don’t be shy with it) and pepper to taste and about a teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice.

Then add a couple tablespoons of white wine and coarsely cut up fresh cilantro and parsley, about 1 cup each loosely packed.

Stir and cover.

Let it cook on a low flame until the peppers are soft (the peppers will continue to soften on their own after taken off the fire so take them off when they’re soft but not mushy).

**Note: you should probably stick to the measurements of the vinegar/lemon juice and the wine. However, all of the other ingredients can be increased according to your taste.

You can eat this dish warm but it’s best at room temperature.

Store it in the fridge and remove it before serving so it warms up to room temperature and the oil liquefies.

It goes well in soup, on pizza, as a side with rice dishes… basically just about everything other than cold cereal in the morning.

A special thanks to Uncle Tom for his delicious and flavorful photography.

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Working With, Not Against

Naomi recently put me on to this new effort by The Street Vendor Project. This is such a fabulous example of how to organize in ways that are mutually beneficial and positive…and it points to the importance and complexity of our food systems as we work to build different social and economic structures.

From The Street Vendor Project’s blog:

“Not only is Zuccotti Park, the headquarters of Occupy Wall Street, just a few blocks from SVP’s office in Lower Manhattan. Its also very close to our heart. As protypical members of the 99%, street vendors are oppressed by wealthy elites who are ‘uncomfortable’ with their presence, and yet who have the ear of policy-makers like our Mayor. Though vendors don’t have time to sleep in the park (and though some are sadly losing business,) SVP members are squarely on board OWS’s main goal: economic fairness.”

And what you can do – a call for solidarity in action:

“Occupy Wall Street has made a large impact on the political discussion in this country. But the presence has caused local street vendors to lose business. Liberty Square was a place where many people sat to eat lunch each day and now it is occupied by the protestors. In addition, the large police presence and general activity around the protest has made it a less relaxing place to spend your lunch hour. That coupled with the extremely generous donations of food to the movement have made business tough for local vendors. Because of this, The Street Vendor Project, a local nonprofit organization that advocates for street vendors has started a program where people make a donation to the street vendor project and have those dollars used to buy food from these vendors for the occupy protestors. Helping both the movement and the local vendors.”

Help Occupy Wall Street Protestors with food from Local Street Vendors!

http://streetvendor.org/ows

DONATE HERE!

Call for more info: (646) 602 – 5679

HPD Raid a South Bronx Community Garden

The NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) completed their raid of the Morning Glory Community Garden in South Bronx on Monday, November 7th, 2011. They pulled up kale by the roots, they trashed raised beds, and they erected a fence around the garden so the Morning Glory members could only stand by and watch. The HPD claims the community garden stands in the way of building “affordable” housing in the area, despite there being no concrete bid on the lot. They raided with no warning on Friday, Nov. 4th, and came back on Monday to finish the job. Morning Glory members and allies attempted to block the Monday eviction, in vain. In the wake of their garden’s destruction, Morning Glory members are reaching out to the community board to seek further action.

They could use your help in donations or even an email of support. You can follow updates on their blog Morning Glory Garden, or you can email them at morningglorygarden [at] gmail.

History of Morning Glory

The garden was originally an empty lot, owned yet abandoned by the city for 30 years. In 2009, South Bronx community members decided to re-imagine the space, creating an environment where children and adults could learn to grow, harvest and cook their own food. In the past few months they had accomplished quite a lot with very little resources. In their own words, they:

  • Doubled our growing space, for a total of 15 raised beds
  • Built a new compost system
  • Built a large seating area, with shade structure, cafe tables and chairs
  • Planted our first tree (A peach tree! And it actually produced peaches.)
  • Grown a lot of collards, kale, onions, beans, and tomatoes. Like, a lot.
  • Organized ourselves as a general meeting with working committees
  • Hosted an open mic and a community barbecue

Before the raid, they were attempting to raise another $400 dollars to work toward their own CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which would provide affordable and healthy food for anyone in the South Bronx willing to participate. Grassroots organizing like this should be embraced by the city. It’s low cost, galvanizes a community and it allows for self-empowerment, education and fun. Morning Glory understands the mission of the HPD and doesn’t discount the need for affordable housing, however, I they make a valid argument, that “affordable housing is def needed, and would be easy to come by if the city would repair broken-down buildings or put rent controls on these new richy-rich developments being built.” They see that the HPD and Mayor’s housing plan doesn’t really support the communities they claim to. It supports contractors, the city departments, and those who can afford the new and pricy housing. Historically, most urban development leads to the complete displacement of the communities where development takes place. Since the 2002 implementation of The New Housing Marketplace Plan, there has been only 1 progress report in 2005, before the housing crash. It’s now nearly 2012, and self-mobilized communities like Morning Glory deserve reasonable communication from the city.

Access to Food

Morning Glory just posted this great video of community member’s voices.

Food access is a major issue in communities where there’s not much more than convenience stores and fast food chains. The South Bronx is a “food desert.” Morning Glory took this issue into their own hands, and gave the South Bronx access to healthy, organic food. Again, they deserve the respect of the city and answers for an unwarranted demolition. For more information and ways you can assist, please contact: elliottjliu [at] gmail.