Ghost Peppers, Three Ways (and More!)

(Because it’s Halloween. Get it?)

If you’re not into the super-spicy, don’t run away just yet – I’ve got two recipes at the bottom that can use milder peppers in place of the ghosties, and one that mellows the spice a bit. But I’m here today to talk about our ghost pepper bumper crop, and what to do with a plethora of hot peppers, ghost or not, should you be so inclined to use them.

I must confess, I used to be terrified of ghost peppers. I love a good heat in much of my food, thanks to my hot pepper-loving dad, and I’ll use hot sauce as a condiment and dipping sauce over ketchup any day, but I’d had some not-so-fun episodes with super hot varieties of peppers. I love the taste of a habanero pepper, especially a good raw one, but my wimpy tongue can’t always take its heat. An unexpectedly hot jalapeño popper – not the deep-fried, frozen kind completely devoid of its spicy membrane, but a legit fresh jalapeño sliced in half with cream cheese – has sent me to bed early. I’ve rendered a green curry inedible with a bad ratio of curry paste and coconut milk. (I still don’t know what made that particular paste so spicy, but I was crying while I was trying to eat it.)

But like I said, I love (moderately) spicy foods, I love the taste of fresh hot peppers, and I like pushing the limit on what I can take in Scovilles. So imagine my inner conflict when husband chose a ghost pepper plant for our floral menagerie. (Husband, unlike me, loves his mouth on fire, apparently, and frequently orders his food at the hottest levels restaurants will allow him.) Ghost peppers are hot – they live up to their hype, tipping the Scoville scale at 800,000 to 1,000,000 units. By comparison, a regular bell pepper is 0 units, a jalapeño ranges from 2,500 to 8,000 units, and a hot hot habanero can reach 575,000 units. Like I said, I’ve been incapacitated by a particularly hot jalapeño pepper, so a pepper that’s literally 100 times hotter? Hmmm. And a whole plant full of them? Double hmmm.

Spoiler alert: we got the ghost pepper plant, along with several bells, a poblano, a serrano, a couple of bananas, and cayenne plants. I figured, the last ghost pepper plant we got only produced about three or four peppers, so I could figure out what to do with a few. Surely.

Spoiler alert again: thanks to an extended summer and random super hot days, the ghost pepper, along with our poblano plant, was our most prolific producer of peppers. (Try saying that five times fast!) Because of course it was. So now, it was my job to figure out what on earth to do with over a hundred ghost peppers over the course of a season. Joy.

Sarcasm aside, working with these hot buggers made me appreciate them more and figure out, for real, what to do with them. I experimented more frequently with them in my cooking, and realized that, yes, although they are hot, they add a fresh pepperiness that bottled hot sauce just doesn’t have. If I use one or two in a large batch of soup or chili (and seed them well), the heat doesn’t overwhelm the dish, but gives it a pleasant throat heat with some good spice on the tongue. Long cooking seems to mellow out the heat, as well.

So you have a bumper crop of hot peppers, as well? Or a friend gave you a bag? Or you’re just crazy and went and bought a hundred hot peppers? What, you may ask, do I do with these things before they rot?

Prepping for pepper jelly!

I have three recipes for you, as well as a simple list of what you might make. First, two disclaimers before you go off and play with fire:

  1. Wear rubber gloves and goggles or glasses while working with super-hot peppers. Do not skip this step – the oil can legitimately burn your skin and eyes, and the burning will not stop for hours. If you do, however, accidentally touch them, you can use fatty dairy or oil on the affected area (think: dipping your hands in whole milk) to soothe the burn. Wash your hands and equipment thoroughly with soap and water when working with the peppers, regardless.
  2. Start with small amounts of peppers for cooked dishes, and slowly increase the amount if that’s your bag. I’m talking starting with portions of the pepper, well-seeded (and perhaps with much of the membrane removed with a knife), and moving to a whole pepper. You can render a dish inedible by making it too spicy, and I don’t want you wasting food. Baby steps, my friends.

Got it? Good. Now, the simple list of what you can do with hot peppers. I’ve tried all of these unless otherwise indicated:

  1. Slice and seed them, and put them in chili, soup, cornbread, brownies, or wherever your heart desires more heat.
  2. Pickle them (recipe below).
  3. Roast them and make hot sauce, hot pepper paste, or infuse vodka. Yes, your house will become a fire pit for a few hours. Maybe get the kids and pets outside for that time. Or use the grill for roasting.
  4. Did I mention infusing vodka? Give 10-15 peppers a good roast (raw ones won’t impart much flavor, and a bitter one at that), put them in a pint or quart jar, and fill with a decent vodka. Wait about a month, shaking the jar occasionally, then strain and serve for spicy drinks!
  5. Make schug, an herby, spicy Middle Eastern condiment (recipe below).
  6. Use them in pepper jelly (recipe below).
  7. Make a simple hot sauce. This is something I’m in the process of trying (I just picked another eighty or so peppers this morning. Yes, eighty), so I’ll post when I have good results to share.
  8. Make ghost pepper salt. This will also be an experiment in the next week. Will share results.

And now, for the actual recipes. As I said at the beginning of the post, if you’re wary of ghost peppers (or heat in general), you can absolutely tame these down to whatever level you’re comfortable with by using different varieties of peppers. No worries.

Schug (Yemenite Pepper Sauce)

Make sure all of your ingredients here are fresh – the appeal of this sauce is its fresh herbiness and heat. Use this herby, lemony, spicy sauce as a condiment, marinade base for meat or tofu, or eating with hummus. So. Friggin’. Good.

You will need:

  • 18-20 hot peppers. Serrano peppers are traditional, but I used a combination of mostly serrano peppers, 1-2 ghost peppers, and a poblano to tame the heat.
  • 2 c parsley (you can also do a combination of 1 c parsley and 1 c cilantro)
  • 4-5 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground cardamom
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground coriander
  • 3/4-1 c vegetable or olive oil, depending on how fancy you want to get

Directions:

  1. Remove stems from hot peppers. Combine stemmed peppers, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, salt, cardamom, and coriander in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until you have a very coarse paste (it should not be homogenous and smooth).
  2. Scrape contents of food processor into a bowl. Drizzle in 3/4 c of the oil and mix with a spatula, adding more oil if you prefer a looser sauce. Store in a jar or other sealable glass container in the fridge – make sure you mix or shake it when you want to use it, as the contents will separate. Will keep for a month or so.

Hot Pepper Jelly

This jelly is still mostly milder peppers, but if you want to go crazy, feel free to use all ghost peppers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You can also tame it down to other varieties of peppers if you want regular pepper jelly. If you want to preserve this jelly, refer to the canning instructions in the Pickled Okra post; otherwise, you can use it as refrigerator jam. This recipe also uses powdered pectin and calcium water to thicken the jelly, as peppers do not generally contain enough pectin to thicken on their own. You can make a batch of calcium water by mixing 1/2 tsp white calcium powder with 1/2 c water in a jar, and storing it in the fridge for future jellies. You can get both the pectin and powdered calcium, often packaged together, at brewing supply stores or the canning section of grocery stores.

You will need:

  • 1 c banana peppers, finely chopped
  • 1/3 c ghost peppers or other hot peppers, finely chopped
  • 1 1/3 c white vinegar
  • 2 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp powdered pectin
  • 2 tsp calcium water

Directions:

  1. If canning, prepare the canner, jar, and lids.
  2. Stir pectin into 1/2 c of the sugar in a separate bowl. Set aside
  3. Combine peppers, calcium water, and vinegar in a 2-quart saucepan, and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to a vigorous simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove lid and, stirring vigorously, add the sugar-pectin mixture. Continue to stir, with the mixture boiling, for 1-2 minutes – the mixture should thicken slightly. Add the remaining sugar and remove the pan from the heat.
  5. Carefully pour the hot jelly into jars. If canning, follow hot water canning procedures and process for 10 minutes. Otherwise, refrigerate the jars after cooling for 20-30 minutes.

Pickled Ghost Peppers

Pickling tames the heat a bit, but they’re still hot hot hot! Refer to the canning instructions in Pickled Okra if preserving these babies for future use. Otherwise, you can keep them in the refrigerator. This recipe makes about 4-5 pint jars of pickled peppers.

You will need:

  • 10-11 c ghost peppers, washed with stems removed and sliced if you wish (I pickled mine whole)
  • 6 c white vinegar
  • 2 c water
  • 3 cloves garlic (optional)

Directions:

  1. If canning, prepare the canner, jar, and lids.
  2. In a large (3-4 quart) saucepan, combine vinegar, water, and garlic if using, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. If using garlic, reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the garlic to infuse the liquid for at least 5 minutes, then remove garlic. Remove pan from heat.
  3. Pack peppers into jars, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace between peppers and the tops of jars. Ladle hot vinegar mixture into the jars, enough to cover the peppers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace between the liquid and top of the jar. Remove any large air bubbles. (Like okra, if you’re using stemmed peppers, they will continue to make tiny bubbles in the mixture – this is okay.) Adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding more hot vinegar mixture.
  4. Wipe rims and apply lids and bands. If canning, follow hot water canning instructions, processing for 10 minutes in the hot-water canner. If using as refrigerator pickles, allow the jars to cool for 20-30 minutes before storing them in the fridge.

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