By Herb Gardener –
Parenting was, I think, the first service industry. The contemporary playdate is its chamber of commerce mixer. When my daughter Fauna’s friends visit I want the moms and dads to enjoy good food and refreshments between directives to share toys and play nice. Even with limited stores I can usually deliver satisfying fare thanks to the magic of readymades.
My definition of a readymade is any condiment, sauce, or accompaniment with a shelf life exceeding one week that will elevate a variety of first-string ingredients. A typical example is a stovetop barbecue sauce that stays sharp in a refrigerated air-tight container for at least a few months. The following Tupperware-warriors that have often rescued me and my business associates from the blands.
Pepper jam’s (or jelly’s) sweet piquancy will rouse a vinaigrette and consummate a brie en croute. Spread it on a sandwich or top a cracker and cheese as you would quince paste. You can prepare pepper jelly with pectin, or simmer the mixture long on the stove until you reach the desired consistency.
Zhoug is the national chili paste of Israel, by way of Yemen. Recipes abound, but signature ingredients include cilantro, chili peppers, and garlic. Store in a sterilized jar in the fridge for up to three weeks. Best and brightest results are obtained, however, in the first few days.
Chase your condiment-topped wonders with a glass of mead. Perhaps the oldest of humankind’s fermented beverages mead is the alchemical product of honey, water, yeast (natural or introduced), and flavorings. A young mead takes about 10 days to produce. Strawberry/mint and pineapple/ginger batches are brewing in my mason jars right now. Saddled with a surfeit of yarrow or nettles? Mead readily accepts your wildest additive challenge. Lay down a mead like a first-growth cabernet to coax more subtlety and depth from your elixir. Fermentation will continue at a slower rate beyond the first effervescent week.
Call the babysitter and gather friends for an adults-only Game of Thrones marathon. Serve your ready-mead in bejeweled goblets, dip fried dragon (alligator) tail nuggets in searing zhoug, and revel in the intrigue of pepper jam on ice cream. The clash of swords and egos will resound amid the clamor for seconds.
While my favorite pepper jam is made with red bell peppers, red Fresno chilis, sugar, and apple cider vinegar the following recipe (from Judith Choate’s Homemade: Delicious Foods to Make and Give, NY/Clarkson Potter, 2004) produces a pleasingly balanced spread and has the virtue of a quick, consistent set thanks to pectin. Vacuum-sealed jars will last one year; refrigerated, up to three months.
Favorite Pepper Jam
2 medium yellow or green bell peppers (preferably organic) washed, cores, seeds, and membranes removed, and chopped
1 cup chopped organic jalapeno, serrano, or other hot chilis, washed and stemmed
1 ½ cups white vinegar
6 ½ cups sugar
2 three-ounce packets liquid pectin
1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes
Few drops green food coloring, optional
Combine the bell peppers, chilis, vinegar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until finely ground. Transfer the mixture to a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over high heat and, while stirring constantly, add the sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 20 minutes, or until the mixture comes to a full, rolling boil. Continue to boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the pectin, red pepper flakes, and if using, food coloring. Immediately pour the jelly into the sterilized jars, cover, and vacuum-seal, or pour into containers, cover, and set aside to cool before refrigerating. Makes 10 four-ounce portions.
My friend Gur, a Sabra, is a crackerjack cook (and lovely man) who pastry cheffed at one of the finest restaurants in Texas. You won’t break a sweat preparing this simple recipe. I can’t say the same when it comes to consuming the sauce.
(yield, one small jar)
3-4 green hot peppers, such as jalapeno, fresno, or serrano
large bunch of well rinsed, well dried, fresh cilantro.
3-4 large garlic cloves
1/3 teaspoon cumin
1/3 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of water
2 tablespoons of vegetable/canola oil
Clean the green hot pepper from its seeds and white inner parts, cut roughly and put in a food processor bowl. Thoroughly rinse, and dry the cilantro. Add it to the bowl. Using the food processor finely chop the mix. Push the mix to the bottom of the bowl and add the spices, water and oil. Mix until the right consistency achieved. If needed, add some water ( in tsp amounts) to the mix to get a bit more runny consistency. Usually keeps its fresh flavors in an airtight jar for up to 10 days.