Tuesday, June 1, 2010

hot hot heat

Alright, inspired by the awesomeness that is Jessica's Madness and Beauty, this is me giving blogging a serious go:

As I haven't actually left the fair island of Singabore for nearly 2 whole months, I have no choice but to start with something rather mundane. Like what's in my fridge.

 As any lover of spicy food knows, for chili peppers, bigger is never better. While habaneros may be the fiery mistress of Mexican cuisine and any worthwhile jerk recipe features the Scotch bonnet, Capsicum frutescens puts the heat in Southeast Asian cooking

Known as the bird's eye chili to English speaking folks, phrik khee noo (literally "mouse dropping peppers") in Thai or chili padi  in Malay, these are the little bastards that give som tam or sambal their lingering heat. They're also a key ingredient in my homemade salsa. 
One of the luxuries of living in Singapore is that you can get anything here. Go to an expat supermarket like Cold Storage or Jason's The Marketplace, and the Westernly-wide aisles are lined with imported foodstuffs from organic apple sauce to goose liver pate to double chocolate Poptarts -- at a price, of course.

Salsa has failed to take off as a condiment in SE Asia, and 200 mL jars of ketchupy American stuff run about $7 SGD. When they're not in season, farm-fresh organic Malaysian tomatoes ring up at $1.70 SGD per kilo. With great veggies and lots of free time, the choice was clear.

The scientific method plays little part in my newfound salsa-making abilities. I don't follow recipes, I rarely measure, and I never replicate. I name batches like Friends episodes: there's been "the brutally spicy one", "the cumin one", "the smoky one" (courtesy of a tin of chipotle peppers I picked up during a trip to Canada), and now "the tequila one". Apparently I do a decent job as my sig. other bought me fancy German cookware so I could make it in larger batches.

One thing I have learned it to never underestimate the power of the bird’s eye chili. Though they don't irritate my skin, the capsaicin lingers on my fingertips for days making it an excruciating feat to put in or remove contact lenses. I’ve since evolved to using my blender-attachment to chop them, and removing the lid is following by a bout of involuntary sneezing from the fumes. It reminds me of when P & I lived in Thailand and would make note of street vendors where the cloud of vaporized chili emanating from the wok was so overpowering that passers-by would erupt into coughing fits – those were the restaurants we’d make sure to visit.

For pure sadistic delight, here's a video some some idiots eating bird's eye chilis. 

Spicy Bird's Eye Salsa
12 medium-sized ripe tomatos
3 medium-sized red onions
2 red peppers, 1 green pepper
15 bird's eye chilis
1 tbsp minced garlic (approx. 3 cloves)
1/4 cup white vinegar
To season: black pepper, salt (I use sea salt), lemon juice, cayenne
Optional seasoning: cumin (best spice ever), basil (adds bitterness), tequila (adds a smokiness)

Chop up all the veggies and put them in a pot with the vinegar. Cover and cook on medium heat. Add salt, lemon juice, and spices to taste. Once it’s boiling, reduce heat and let simmer for a couple hours until all the veggies are soft and it looks like salsa. If it’s a bit watery or too spicy you can add a small tin of tomato paste. As mentioned above, all measurements are approximate. Keep tasting it (cool off samples in the fridge) and it’s hard to go wrong.


  1. I'm new to Thailand and love spicy food but the Thais put too much sugar in everything. Where can I get some recipes in English that are less sweet but just as tasty?
    Also, what part of the prairies are you from? Just curious as I am an old f_rt from Edmonton.

  2. Heya,

    Good Thai food should strike a balance between sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. Have you tried just reducing the amount of sugar called for in the recipe?

    If you don't like sweet Thai food, I'd suggest these: chicken with basil, massaman curry, larb salad.

    Recipes from this website remind me most of what I've eaten in Thailand --




    P.S. small-town Manitoba born & raised :)

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