Saturday, August 15, 2009

Today's project: ground red pepper

I love a really spicy dish whether it's a spicy beef Vietnamese noodle soup, an Indian vindaloo, or a pasta with tomato sauce that packs heat. Remarkably, I'm a really good pepper grower (if you're thinking something like - oh, that's because peppers are really easy to grow, just don't tell me because my pepper harvest really helps to boost my gardening confidence each year when everything else dies).

Yesterday and today's task was to figure out what to do with all the cayenne peppers. Who can cook all these peppers (especially if you're the only one in your family who loves spice)?! I decided to make my own ground pepper to use throughout the next several months. I generally buy spices without too much thought as to how the powder or flake gets into the little jar (you go to the store, stand at the rack, find your spice by alpha order, put it on the conveyor belt and pay). It was very cool to see that within 24 hours, my cayenne peppers could begin in the garden, and end up a perfectly ground spice in a little glass jar, and that I could make it all by myself. Doubters, watch the process unfold...

Here are the peppers on the plant, in my garden 24 hours ago.

The peppers are first rinsed and dried gently and thoroughly. I read about a few different methods of drying peppers, and decided to experiment. I strung some up with thread to air dry in the house (more below), but the quickest method was to use the oven. The lowest setting my oven would allow was 170 degrees, and this temperature was just right. I cracked the oven door to allow for a little air circulation. Here are the peppers ready to be dried in the oven. Notice there is room around each pepper, and that they're not touching. The larger pepper (I have yet to figure out what type of pepper it is, but it's a spicy one) was cut in half to speed drying. You can discard the seeds, but I wanted to keep the seeds for more heat in my ground pepper. ***Caution: when cutting hot peppers, it's a very good idea to wear rubber gloves as the capsaicin remains on your skin for a long time (like when you're eating something that's finger lickin' good, or like when you're putting your contacts in. Ouch).

I didn't time the process, but it probably took about...8 hours or so to completely dry the peppers. They're done when there is no moisture left whatsoever in the pepper. I did have to leave the house to run some errands twice during the day, so I just turned the oven off, kept the peppers in there, and turned the oven back on when I got back in. I did turn the peppers over once or twice during the entire process, but I'm not sure this is even necessary. When they were completely dried, I just took them out and left them for today. The oven is at such a low temp, that it's not necessary to stand guard at the oven all day.

***Caution: If anyone in your family is very sensitive to hot peppers, you may want to use a different method. For us, it was not like a tear gas bomb in our kitchen or anything, but there was definitely an odor (or fragrance - depending on how much you like hot peppers!) throughout the house, and one child sneezed a little bit and complained her nose felt like it had pins and needles in it. I did not have this problem at all, and neither did the other 2 family members. I did keep the side door open though.

Here are the peppers in a bag and ready to be ground. In reality, they're a dark red, not quite the black as the photo makes it appear.

Here's our process for grinding the peppers. You can use a food processor or grinder, but I've read this will give you more of a powder than a flake, like I wanted to have.

Here is the dried cayenne pepper, crushed to my liking and ready to be added to pasta, soup, stir fry, sauce, pizza, French fries, and anything else I can think of!

Here is the other part of the experiment. Directions on the web specify to use a thick needle and fishing line or super thick thread to string the peppers, which I did not have. I used a regular sewing needle and some thick sewing thread, and so far, it seems to have worked fine. I have read that the process of air drying in the house - preferably in a sunny and dry spot, can take about 3 weeks. I have also read some reports of the peppers molding on the inside using this method, which is why I decided to dry some in the oven as well, just in case. I will report back on how the air drying goes! Isn't it a cute and festive decoration?!


  1. Most impressive! The peppers look great on the plant, drying in the air, and dried on a plate. Well done!

  2. Vietnamese noodle talking about Pho? My fav! I grow Thai chilis (much smaller than these) and they are potent! Uh-oh, your daughter is not wearing careful! Love the string of peppers...I actually have them in the actual lights!!

  3. Wendy, thats a very well written post. I'd love to sprinkle some of these grounded chillis on my pizza. We also like pickled green chillis which we eat with wantan noodle or chee cheong fun (if you know what that means). Some people even like pickled chilli with sharksfin soup. When I was little, my grandma used to make soup with the chilli leaves. It tasted good.

  4. Great photos - beautiful peppers! I grew jalapenos one year and had far too many to eat. We ended up pickling them. It was a great way to preserve them and we found them delicious.

    I'm glad you took the time to type all that out - I'm inspired to try a few hot pepper plants next year!

  5. Nice job with your peppers! I'm thinking of trying this next year, if I can get any peppers to grow in our cool summers... -Jackie

  6. Thanks ladies! It looks good, but I just hope it stores well...

    Lynn, I'm not vietnamese, and I'm sure I'm wrong, but I always associated Pho (I do know it's pronounced like "fuh????" - proud of that little tidbit) with a that clear, deliciously light chicken broth, at least until I discovered the spicy. The first time I had it, I was hurting afterwards. When I was done, my nose and forehead were sweating, my lips felt like they'd had a collagen injection, my tongue was numb and I was hoarse from coughing for 5 minutes b/c it went down the wrong pipe. It was aaaaallll worth it though. I'm also growing Thai Burapa (do you grow that?) peppers, and I thought they were the big ones in the picture, but found something else on the net. I have tons of little upwardly pointed peppers - maybe that's the Thai Burapa?

    Autumn Belle - is the cheong fun the rolled up stuff you get at dim sum? My fave. I like the hot chili oil on dim sum too. mmm...maybe that will be my next project - to make that hot chili sauce... I also love sharksfin soup. I like it either with rice or without rice but with a dash of balsamic vinegar. I'm hungry now.

  7. I am so glad I stumbled on to your blog! My husband (who loves hot peppers) went with me to get plants this year for the vegetagle garden. Needless to say, more than half of our garden is peppers! Now they are all ready to pick at once and I wasn't sure what to do with them. Now I know~ thanks to you. I will try it next week.

  8. Wendy, yes, I guess that's the one. I bet its the Hong Kong version. In Malaysia, we also eat it with fried pork skin curry.

  9. Teresa - I'm glad you'll be able to try it! We learn together!! I think you could dry some whole and not crush them too. I've been reading some recipes lately and am noticing a LOT of recipes that call for dried whole chili peppers.

    Autumn Belle, you've just said 4 of my favorite words: fried. pork. skin. curry. You can't go wrong with that!

  10. Interesting demonstration on drying peppers. I love spicy food and you may have just inspired me try to dry out my own peppers. -Joel The Urban Gardener

  11. Joel - there's nothing to even "try". It was super easy and a great use of all the peppers! I love your blog and will visit often!

  12. Wendy,

    I don't do 'hot' but I make my own homegrown paprika by the same method. Because I have one, I use a food dryer, and I have also tried the 'hang on a string in a dark, cool, dry space' (our garage), which worked ok. I loved the smell of the drying peppers, and can see how overpowering it might be with hot peppers.

    A few years ago the local newspaper sent out a reporter to photography my paprika-making process. Kinda fun -- I had many comments from gardening friends afterward. Maybe you could gain similar 'fame' by a judicious call to your local rag?

    Enjoying your blog.

  13. Maybe I will - don't think I've had my 15 minutes of fame yet! :)

  14. I love spicy. I have dried peppers before - I always air dried because it doesn't cost any money, and I haven't noticed any trouble with the insides molding. I will be watching for that more closely now.

    BTW - peppers aren't easy to grow! At least not the sweet ones. I have trouble with them every year.


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