Ever since I can remember I’ve always loved spicy food. I’m not sure when it started but there is something addictive about feeling the burn from a curry, chilli or splash of hot sauce. I went through the usual youthful ritual of a late night curry with plenty of pints & poppadoms. I recall one particular Indian dish so hot my knees sweated, a never repeated experience. But beyond the macho bravado once you start your spicy food journey your taste buds will discover a world of varied flavour sensations as well as heat.
It was by chance that I read about the 2nd annual Festival of Heat. Travelling bleary eyed into work with the usual throng of commuters last Friday I saw a brief mention of it in my copy of the Metro. I knew I couldn’t miss this, in fact I was a bit more excited about it than my blind date that night which didn’t go that well sadly. But memories of another failed romantic endeavour soon faded & after a quick omelette breakfast I headed towards Spitalfields City Farm where the event was taking place on Sunday 28th October.
Close to Buxton Street (named after abolitionist & social reformer Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton) Spitalfieds City Farm is situated in Tower Hamlets one of the most vibrant areas of London & the streets were packed with tourists & traders alike as I made my way there. Thankfully the weather was good, & the festival was already in full swing when I arrived.
There were numerous stalls mainly focusing on independent hot sauce makers. In fact there were so many to choose from I didn’t know where to start.
The enticing bottles with names such as Five Finger Death Punch & Evil One were displayed along with free samples.
Many of these had a one-more-go level of intense heat that left some visitors literally teary eyed. There were also more delicate flavoured offerings whilst others enticed with their rich depth of flavour.
Thankfully there were plenty of other refreshments on offer, in fact I had to take a breather after a while with a cooling pint of locally sourced cider. It wasn’t only hot sauces, with live music & dance also provided for burnt throated attendees!
For those with culinary leanings, like me of course, there was the chance to buy chillies & chilli plants along with workshops & an interesting interactive stall which explored the way in which taste is informed by many other factors such as colour & smell. An interesting respite from the addictive onslaught of hot sauce sampling.
This was a brilliant day & basically essential for any fan of spicy food, after buying a nice selection of sauces & chillies I left with that lovely warm feeling in my tummy & loads of ideas in my head about how to make the best of what I had experienced.
As I walked back to the station the sound of music caught my attention, turning a corner I stumbled upon the Upstart Crow Festival. This free event dedicated to singer songwriters was a welcome surprise, I settled down for a short while enjoying the music & another pint.
So what would I concoct after my day of heat? Initially I wanted to make a hot sauce, but I thought a break was in order from the intensity I’d enjoyed at the festival so settled on a subtler dish. I’d never stuffed a pepper, & the large Anaheim seemed perfect for a first attempt. I initially thought about cream cheese but after talking to a friend who recommended Indian style spiced potato I changed my mind. I really like sweet potato, especially with the addition of chilli flakes so that was the way I rolled. I wanted to create my own mayo to accompany it, the chillies I’d purchased seemed ideal for this to give an extra, controllable fire to the dish.
1 Anaheim pepper
1 sweet potato
6 slices of Parma Ham
2 Chipotle chillies
4 – 5 tablespoons of mayo
Juice of 1 lime
Firstly I attempted the mayo. Unfortunately the chipotle chillies were dried so weren’t so easy to blend even after finely chopping. My blender is pretty basic as well which didn’t help. In fact I ended up pushing the mayo through a sieve to remove the small but harsh bits of chilli. I used about 4 tablespoons of mayo, adding the juice of one lime along with paprika & cumin. I kept tasting to see if the flavour was right, adjusting the spice level accordingly which you would need to do of course to suit your palette.
Putting this into the fridge I turned to the pepper. Splitting down the side I scooped out the interior, removing as much of the seeds as possible. Setting that aside I peeled then cut the sweet potato into even sized chunks before boiling for about 15 – 20 mins until soft. Draining then mashing the spud followed, adding a knob of butter a dash of pepper & a liberal amount of chilli flakes. Again keep tasting till you reach the level you’re comfortable with.
When it came to stuffing the pepper I realised there might be some difficulty in the pepper retaining its shape, so after it was filled I wrapped a few slices of Parma ham around it, securing with a toothpick or two. Then it was into a preheated griddle pan for a few minutes, turning occasionally until the ham started to darken.
As a first attempt this wasn’t bad & tasted alright the mayo adding a nice afterburn of heat to the dish. There are of course things I’d do differently, maybe blanch the pepper first to soften it as it was quite firm, or use smaller ones. Although the combination of sweet potato against the Parma ham worked well the potato had lost its temperature, probably due to the relative thickness of the pepper. A filling not so reliant on heat would be better, a cream cheese as originally intended for example. Philadelphia Light with Sweet Chilli would probably work just as well with the ham. A longer cooking time possibly in the oven may give a better result, keeping everything hot. To be honest I was going to shove it in the oven but was hungry & impatient! Maybe a different colour pepper would be superior aesthetically. Visually it might have looked better sliced? On a bed of sweet potato mash? Endless possibilities it seems. But not bad overall, definitely a work in progress I will make further attempts to perfect.