Very recently, we were invited at Om Mahmoud’s house for dinner. After sampling her delicious entrees, she went into the kitchen and brought back a small white bag. “This is for you”, she said, “my brother-in-law has them growing in a corner at his orange grove. I picked them with my own hands. They are sooo hooot, so you’d better be careful.” Like a little kid opening up Christmas presents, I looked inside the bag with anticipation. There they were, green and red in the spirit of the season and varying in size from 1 to 1.5”, a small bunch of Cayenne peppers awaited my caressing fingers.
But wait a minute; let’s not get ahead of ourselves by calling them “Cayenne”. Peppers in general are not native to the Levant and as such the different varieties were introduced at various times over the course of history and successfully cultivated. One particular genus characterized by its uniquely elongated shape, relatively small size, acutely hot tang is called in Tartous and possibly in other Levantine cities, Zanbour Al-Set = The Lady’s Clitoris. It could be equally argued that Tartoussis are either awfully vulgar or unequivocally savant to give such a name to a pepper. Yet it’s unmistakably a part of our folklore and needs not be obscured or shunned at.
For the purpose of this article I carried out a little online research and found a few sites dedicated entirely to peppers and Chile. They are listed toward the end and I can assure you that you will find them very enjoyable to browse if you were like me, that is if you take pleasure in the Hot & Spicy side of gastronomy. From these sites, and after looking at dozens of photos, I learned that the “LAOTIAN - hot; Cayenne Type; 1.5 to 2 inches long by 0.25 to 0.375 inches wide; thin flesh; matures from green to red; upright pods become pendant; green leaves; 12 to 18 inches tall; Mid Season; Uses: Oriental Cuisine; from Laos; C.annuum” is the closest thing to our Zanbour Al-Set.
So I returned home with my little treasure in hand, a small bag filled with colored clitorides (that is plural of clitoris for the uninitiated in Latin). I was only certain of two things, such little gems need to be oiled perfectly and treated gently. Luckily, I had faultless virgin olive oil from the Qualaat Al Khawabi Village. I was only missing proper glassware.
I went down to Sile, my favorite watering hole in Tartous, and considered my bottle collection. I couldn’t quite climax to that Eureka feeling but instead was convinced that I have to throw away a whole bunch of empty bottles. So I considered my next best option and drove to the Free Shop located inside the port of Tartous. There, amid hundreds of strikingly nice-looking bottles, I came across a Wyborowa Vodka bottle, product of Poland. The glasswork is a masterpiece and there is no way on earth the liquid inside could be less exquisite. Despite the somehow steep price tag, I bought it and headed home, calling a couple of friends along the way to share it with. We did so until deep in the night. I bid them farewell and could only think of the clitorides waiting for me in the kitchen, of all places.
Have I already mentioned the point behind this article? I guess not. Well, it’s really about how to preserve Cayenne/Jalapeño/Chile peppers in olive oil to make the "Ultimate Hot Olive Oil". Since the process is so easy and straight forward the least I could do is write more than a few simple lines after such a long absence away from my blog, hence this moronic post. As a matter of fact, if you just follow the pictures you’ve got it made but I’ll details the steps and ingredients anyway.
-One good-looking bottle of Vodka: Consume it 12 hours ahead with friends and don’t throw away the bottle. Remember that you bought it and drank it because you needed the empty glassware.
-Two handfuls of hot, eager and colored Laotian Cayenne peppers.
-Olive oil - enough to fill the bottle. I recommend the highest quality olive oil you can find.
1- Remove the stems of the peppers, wash them with running water and dry them out completely with tissue papers.
2- Place inside washed and dried Vodka bottle – Do not touch your eyes in the process.
3- Pour the oil slowly until bottle is filled – Cover but do not tighten until next day so that trapped air is released.
4- Tighten cover and forget about the whole thing for at least 3 months.
For the next 2 years (minimum) you will be able to add taste and zest to any and all of your recipes. A few drops of this magical elixir and you’ll morph a dull meal into a most exciting entrée. Whenever the oil level drops, just replenish with more. Depending on how hot the peppers were when you started you might never notice the difference. Every once in a while, treat yourself to a few peppers. They taste out of this world.
You still can’t figure out what to do with the Hot Olive Oil!!! Well let’s see. Pizza, Labneh, Hommos, Fried Eggs, Omelettes, Soups, Salads, Meats, Fish, Poultry, etc. Where Tabasco goes, your Home-Made Hot Olive Oil is certainly a much better choice.
* Due to some controversy arising in the comment section as to which pepper is the hottest, I have added the famous Scoville Scale for the reader's reference.
Peppers Complete Guide: http://www.backyardgardener.com/veg/greenpeppers.html
Great to order on-line: http://www.chileplants.com/
Scoville Scale: http://ushotstuff.com/Heat.Scale.htm