My sister sent me a large quantity of chillies recently – grown in her verdant vegetable garden in sunny Opotiki.
These are Scotch Bonnet and Jalapeno chillies.
My sister and I spent a good proportion of our childhoods growing up in Malaysia. At an early age, we were exposed to, and loved, the taste of chilli. However, I had never come across Scotch Bonnets until I lived in London, ten years ago.
Walking through the local street market, I came across a Jamaican stall selling these curious looking chillies. I’d never seen anything quite so cute, so got a few to try.
My favourite dish at the time was spaghetti Aio e Oio (Roman Garlic and Oil sauce). A very simple pasta dish of spaghetti, tossed in abundant olive oil into which you’d sautée garlic and fresh chilli. Topped with lashings of chopped parsley and freshly grated parmesan, it was deliciousness at its most simple.
That night, I prepared spaghetti Aio e Oio. I cut up all three Scotch Bonnets and put them into the pan. They were so small, after all. Little did I know I was cooking up the culinary equivalent of a nuclear explosion. The resultant burning mouths, watering eyes and quaffing of copious quantities of cold beverage ensured that I have not cooked Aio e Oio again since that fateful evening.
I have cooked other chillies, and still love the taste of curry, especially Thai and Malaysian curries, and Northern Chinese dishes which use vast quantities of chilli, but just not… Scotch Bonnets.
I am not quite sure what possessed my sister to plant some of the hottest chillies known to man. She’s a bit perplexed about it herself. On the Scoville rating, Scotch Bonnet chillies rate as extremely hot, or between 100,000 – 350,000, just three levels below ammunition grade chilli (the crucial ingredient in pepper spray).
Not content with that, she also planted Naga Jolokia, or Bhut Jolokia (the world’s hottest chilli, rated between 855,000 – 1,0850,000, and co-incidentally, the self-same chilli used in making pepper spray). Fortunately, she hasn’t sent any of those to me.
I have been warily eyeing these chillies for a couple of weeks, not even really wanting to touch them, still scarred by my unpleasant experience of long ago.
However, something told me that I was being really quite silly by not revisiting what was one of my most favoured dishes, just because I overdosed on the chilli. I knew what went wrong, and I didn’t have to repeat that particular mistake. It would be rude and ungrateful not to use the chillies posted to me with such care (although at the back of my mind is a lurking suspicion it was just so that she could get rid of a batch of chillies she didn’t relish the idea of eating herself…). So today, I cooked spaghetti Aio e Oio:
I used one Scotch Bonnet. I admit I hovered over a second, but thought better of it. It was lip-smackingly delicious. With the perfect amount of pungency.
So Scotch Bonnets and I have made friends, and I have my sister to thank for prompting me to revisit a favourite dish.
As a thank-you, I should probably send her something in return, knitted in the colour of chilli: