I spent an afternoon last week picking the last of the chillies, peppers and eggplants out at my friends Peter and Sharon Brass' wonderful market garden in Cromwell. Every year when their commercial harvests come to an end they message me with the welcome invitation to come out and pick what I want before they put the gardens to bed for the winter. Filling up boxes with all this glorious produce, a colourful jangle of reds, greens and deep rich purples, always feels a bit like Christmas, it's such a treat.
Unlike my garden, which has succumbed and collapsed with the frost, Peter keeps his crops protected by turning on the irrigation whenever there's a chance it will freeze. It might sound counterintuitive but, when the expected lows are just below zero, keeping the plants coated with wet ice prevents freezing injury and enables you to eke out the harvests of late summer crops like peppers for an extra few weeks, until the harder frosts demolish everything to mush.
I boxed up my harvests according to variety so I could easily figure out what they would be suited to make (once they are all together it can be hard to know which ones are hot and which are mild. The jalapenos are always easy to identify, with their stubby form and thick flesh. Jalapeno pickles are such an easy thing to make and handy for burgers and garnishing. Simply slice the jalapenos into thin rounds, discarding the stems, and pack into a sterilised jar. Make a pickling brine at a ratio of 1 cup vinegar to ½ cup water, 2 Tbsp sugar and 1 tsp salt. Bring this to a boil and pour over the sliced chillies to fully immerse, then cover with a lid and store in the fridge for up to 2 months.
Mild green Japanese shishito and padron chillies make fabulous hot snacks, tossed in a hot lightly oiled pan or barbecue hot plate until they soften and start to blister. All they need is a sprinkle with flaky salt and they're ready to serve.
While both padron and shishito chillies are very mild, every now and then you get a really hot one, which makes eating them a bit of a lucky — or unlucky — dip, you never know when you'll get a fiery one. Capsaicin, the pungent chemical that gives chillies their heat, varies greatly from variety to variety and even fruit to fruit on the plant. The greatest concentration of capsaicin is found in the pithy white membrane inside peppers and surrounding their seeds. There's almost no heat in the seeds themselves, except where they have rubbed up against the oily membrane. I generally prefer to remove seeds and pith so I can get more of the chilli flavour without being overwhelmed by the heat. Regular bell-shaped capsicums contain zero capsaicin, so I often use them to add colour and volume to my chilli sauces.
Here are some other fabulous ways to put up summer's last hurrah of harvests.
Chilli tomato jam
This is such a useful condiment and dipping sauce, and is perfect to sub in wherever a recipe calls for Thai sweet chilli sauce. It also makes a great glaze for chicken or fish- dilute with an equal amount of water and drizzle over chicken or fish before baking.
Ready in 2 hours
Makes about 10 cups
6-8 long red chillies, e.g. serrano, pith removed and coarsely chopped
1kg red capsicums, deseeded, white pith removed
1kg tomatoes, cores removed, roughly chopped
80g fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 double makrut lime leaves, central ribs removed
1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled
Zest of 4 limes, finely grated
1 cup water
1 cup rice vinegar
5 tsp salt
2 Tbsp fish sauce or tamari
1½-2 cups caster sugar, to taste
Sterilise jars in the oven and cover lids with boiling water.
Place all the ingredients except the sugar in a wide-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour.
Blitz with a hand stick blender. Stir in sugar, tasting to adjust to your preference for sweetness and simmer, stirring now and then to prevent catching, for another 30 minutes over low heat until glossy,
Spoon the hot chilli jam into the hot sterilised jars, filling to just below the top. Add a splash of boiling water if needed to reach the top. Seal with the sterilised lids. Once opened, store chilli tomato jam in the fridge. It will keep for months.
Smoky cashew and red pepper dip
While peppers are still cheap I like to roast them off in bulk, peel and deseed them and store in a sealed container in the freezer, layering them with baking paper between each layer. This tasty dip is another great way to use roasted peppers and it also freezes well.
Ready in 10 minutes
Makes about 3 cups
4 red peppers
2 cups roasted salted cashews
1 cup water
2 Tbsp chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, or more to taste
2 Tbsp sugar
A generous pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 220C. Wash peppers and place on a baking tray. Bake until blistered and starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to cool. Remove and discard skin and seeds. Roughly chop peppers and place in a food processor or a blender or food processor with all the other ingredients. Whizz until smooth and creamy. It will keep for a couple of weeks in a covered container in the fridge or freeze in 1 cup containers to bring out during the winter months for a picnic or to serve with vege crudites and/or pita crisps for pre-dinner drinks.
This has to be one of my favourite things to make with eggplant. It's great to serve with cheese and crackers and also makes a useful springboard sauce for an easy slow-cooked pork, lamb or beef curry - simply combine a cup of kasundi with a cup of coconut cream and 2 cups stock, add your browned meat, then cover and bake or simmer until tender.
Ready in 1¼ hours
Makes 7-8 cups
120g fresh ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
6 long green chillies, halved lengthways, deseeded and pith removed
1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
1¼ cups rice wine vinegar
1 cup neutral oil
3 Tbsp ground cumin
3 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp ground turmeric
½-1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
3 eggplants, trimmed and diced
2 cups water
2 tsp salt
¾ cup soft brown sugar
TO SERVE (optional)
Place ginger, chillies, garlic, onion and ¼ cup rice wine vinegar in a food processor and whizz to form a paste. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large pot. Add cumin, mustard seeds, turmeric and chilli powder, if using, and sizzle for a few seconds. Add ginger paste and fry over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened and aromatic (about 6 minutes). Add eggplant, water, salt and remaining rice wine vinegar, cover and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is very tender and the mixture is thick (about 1 hour).
Add sugar and stir over heat until dissolved. Use a ladle to lift some of the oil off the surface of the kasundi into a small pot, and keep it warm while you bottle the hot kasundi into sterilised jars. Pour a thin film of hot oil on top of each jar to prevent drying out.
Cover with sterilised lids. Stored in a cool place, it will keep indefinitely. Leave for a couple of weeks to allow flavours to develop.
Serve on flatbreads with yoghurt, if desired.