Sweet Chilli Dipping in Eden’s Early Summer

Summertime brings lighter meals (lighter and more frequent in my lucky case) with high kicks of flavour, crunchy salads and gorgeous fish dishes. Here in the beautiful Eden Valley, as the blackbirds alternately sing to the gods and suck up juicy worms, Magpie’s latest craze is Japanese-style noodles dowsed in miso ramen with ginger and beef steak and dipped in slick homemade teriyaki sauce.

The benefit of this style of eating, in this bird’s not-so-humble opinion, is that if you don’t cram the dish with the entire serving size recommended by the noodle manufacturer, there is always room for more nibbles in an hour or so. Cunning, right?

56 Oriental on Wellington Street in Leeds was the restaurant where Magpie first discovered the taste bud prostrating sweet chilli dipping sauce. The pastel coloured prawn crackers (the pink ones were the prawniest) and putrid orange dip with a faint garlic undernote  lodged in her heart and still lingers now, years later.

In true Magpie fashion, the sauce has been copied at home many times and is far more satisfyingly real than the bottled stuff in the supermarket. Instead of no-pain tangerine viscosity made with glucose syrup and starch, homemade chilli jam has the hue of burnt sunset and the sting of a mouth scorpion. Its smoky depths are reminiscent of a still hot but smouldering camp fire.

Sweet Chilli Jam

Take 250g fresh red chillies and carefully mince with a mezzaluna.* Tip into a heavy bottomed pan**, add some finely chopped garlic, 200g sugar and 200ml water and bring to the boil.

Simmer for 10-20 minutes until it glistens and darkens and then pour into a container. It will keep approximately forever, but there is short chance of it being left that long.

*Wear glasses, goggles, or sunglasses to save your eyes and afterwards DO NOT VISIT THE BATHROOM except to wash your hands. Wear gloves if you can cut with them.
**The most sensible receptacle to use, for fear that the sugar will catch on the bottom.

NOTE: In our health and safety conscious hell, chillies may be considered to be a dangerous food with which to work. There is a safer way to make this sauce, which involves combining the whole, trimmed chillies with the sugar, water and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes, then blitzing in a blender and returning to the heat. However Magpie prefers process over safety and there is a wonderful satisfaction that can be felt as the knife cleaves crunchily through the peppers. Also she doesn’t own a blender.

Eat It With…
Sadly the pastel crackers are not to be found in the average supermarket. White ones just don’t cut it.

Luckily there are more foods that suit this sauce than just ubiquitous prawn crackers. Every noodle dish (said the Condiment Queen) of course, but more besides. Try it with soft or hard goats cheese on crackers and even bacon sandwiches. Runny, unctuous Brie is the best accompaniment, vile though that reads.

Beneficial Pain
Happily, chillies are beneficial to humans, despite the associated pain factor. They can lower blood sugar significantly, even in small quantities, so are a good choice for diabetics. They also reduce the chance of stroke and improve the situation for those who suffer from sinus congestion which is good news for hayfever sufferers.