So, my sister was beginning to clean out her garden a couple of weeks ago and asked me if Id like to have some peppers.
Since I had only planted two plants this year, one jalapeno and one red chili, I jumped at the chance to add to my spicy bounty.
Besides, I seem to remember that she had picked up a couple of Thai plants that were supposed to be for my yard but somehow ended up in her garden instead.
Not knowing what to expect, I headed over to Sharis.
I found her in her backyard garden, picking the teeniest, tiniest red peppers imaginable off their little stems and placing them in a brown paper bag.
These are the Thai, she said. Theyre supposed to be really hot.
I had grown Thais before but thought these to be on the smallish side. But I took the bounty anyway and asked if she had tried them yet herself.
Nope, was the reply and as I looked down at the half dozen or so peppers in my hand, resisted the urge to take one and pop it in my mouth. Something told me to wait until I got home where Id be out of sight of Shari, just in case the peppers were too hot to handle and I had (yet again) given her something to tease me about.
At home, I went about preparing a green salad for dinner. A couple of handfuls of different types of lettuce, a diced-up shallot, a bit of green cabbage, some cheddar cheese ... and three tiny Thai peppers.
OK, Im not gonna lie. Those babies were (are) hot. But not so hot that I didnt want more.
There was something addictive to them. Hot, but not a deep burn. A tip-of-the-tongue rather than whole mouth fiery sensation.
Ive been putting them in salads ever since, seeds and all, and thinking of a way that I can keep the flavor around longer. Then I hit on making chili oil. This version (adapted from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe) is simple, basically just oil and peppers, and I can use it instead of plain olive oil when making salad dressing. Or adding flavor to sauteed shrimp ... or over pasta ... or green beans...
By the way, when I called Shari to tell her about how many I put in the salad, my brother-in-law had overheard our conversation and Shari said Johns eyes grew large at the number three.
2 cups olive oil
4 teaspoons red pepper flakes (or about 8 to 10 chopped fresh Thai peppers, depending on your tolerance level, with seeds)
Combine the oil and pepper flakes in a heavy small saucepan. Cook over low heat until a thermometer inserted into the oil registers 180 degrees F, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Transfer the oil and pepper flakes to a 4-ounce bottle or jar. Refrigerate up to 1 month.
For a richer flavor, you can take this basic recipe and add 8 cloves of garlic and a 1/2-inch piece of ginger root that has been peeled and sliced thin into the saucepan with the oil and pepper.