Using Dried Chillies

Dried Guindilla and Nora Chillies

A friend who makes chilli sauces once gave me a jar full of various exotic dried chillies, then gave me a concerned look and said “You do know how to use dried chillies, don’t you?”. I snorted and rolled my eyes a few times to imply that, yes, of course I did, how could anyone not know, but then sheepishly admitted, “No”.

And to be fair, most people would probably look at a dried chilli and make very little connection between this and a finished meal, but using dried chillies in cooking gives you a great resouce that unlike fresh chillies is always available.  Some chillies such as Chipotle (dried and smoked jalapeno chillies) can just be thrown in the pot whole with other ingredients and removed at the end, but traditional Spanish chillies such as the Guindilla and Nora from Brindisa Spanish Foods in the photo above require some simple preparation before use, as follows: Continue reading

Mint Sauce

mintAugust and September is the best time to harvest summer mint leaves for mint sauce – a versatile ingredient that is great in salad dressings as well as roast lamb.

Mint is an amazingly versatile herb equally at home in both sweet and savoury dishes, able to lift new potatoes or fresh peas to new levels of flavour or cut through rich curry dishes in raita.  Summer always brings a glut of mint to our garden, and the leaves are strewn extravangantly over even the most unlikely of meals (‘Any mint with your beans on toast?’).  But in these happy times the memory of winter lurks menacingly in the distance, and the time comes to squirrel away some of the leaves to secure the bright flavour for the coming seasons.

Mint Sauce

A handful of fresh mint leaves, stalks removed
Cider vinegar (enough to cover)
1tsp sugar

1. Chop the mint leaves finely.
2. Place in a ‘Kilner’ type jar as in the above photo.
3. Press down and pour in enough cider vinegar to cover.
4. Add sugar and mix thoroughly.

The sauce is ready after a few hours, but you’ll find the flavour will improve after a few weeks.  As well as the usual uses with roast lamb, mint sauce is great in salad dressings – mix a few tablespoons with honey, cracked black pepper and olive oil for a fantastic summer salad dressing.  Maybe not this summer though – looking out of my window it’s starting to feel distinctly wintery already…

Steamed Mussels in Rich Tomato and Tarragon Sauce

Mussels in Tomato and Tarragon Sauce

Fresh mussels steamed in a tomato and tarragon broth – a heavenly rich dish dotted with little explosions of sweet tarragon and sharp capers.

Sometimes the best recipes come from an empty cupboard – and this is such a recipe.  I’d been planning to make the traditional moules marinieres with white wine and shallots, however I then remembered we’d drunk the white wine the night before. Ho hum. But what I did have was tomatoes, shallots and a bottle of tarragon vinegar demanding to be used…


All quantities are per person for a main course sized serving.

20-30 mussels, cleaned and debearded
A knob of unsalted butter (about 15g)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
Half a tin of tomatoes, chopped
1 sprig of lemon thyme
1 bay leaf
Bunch of chopped parsley
2 tbsp tarragon vinegar*
6 capers, roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive oil for dressing

1.  Rinse off the mussels and discard any that don’t close when tapped.

2. Heat the butter on a medium heat, then add the shallots and cook until they turn clear.

3. Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, chopped parsley and seasoning (not too much salt though as the liquid in the mussels will be fairly salty), turn up the heat.  When mixture is bubbling fiercely, add the mussels and place a lid on the pan.

4.  Shake the pan occasionally, then after a couple of minutes take off the lid and douse with tarragon vinegar.  Put the lid back on and cook for 2 more minutes, still shaking occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, and pour the mussels and liquid into a serving bowl, discarding the thyme and bay leaf.  Scatter over the chopped capers, and dress with olive oil (about 1 tbsp).

This is a simple, rewarding dish that can be made in a few minutes with little fuss.  The tarragon vinegar sneaks inside some of the mussels so that you get occasional sweet bursts, combining well with the odd smidgen of sharp capers and the rich tomato sauce.  Obviously it would be a crime not to dip big chunks of crusty bread in the sauce. People say not to eat the mussels that are still partly closed, but I always crowbar them open and I’m still living to this day.

In the picture above I included whole capers, but found it a little too intense (and they all slid away into the sauce), hence the recommendation to chop them. Also, chuck a little bit of white wine in there if you like, why not, assuming you haven’t drunk it already…

*tarragon vinegar is pretty easy to make – stick a few sprigs of fresh tarragon into a bottle of white wine vinegar, wait a few weeks, voila – tarragon vinegar.