Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fireworks of taste and festivals of heat

There is something about autumn which appeals to all senses. Like taking off sunglasses when entering the shade or removing earplugs in the morning, whatever has overcome your natural sight, hearing or whatever, Autumn is a rediscovery of intensity. The afternoon sun seems to saturate even the city trees and the morning damp grass smell permeates your layers; even though everything is dying, there is a vibrant melancholy. This sustains us as we move towards November and semi-permanent darkness.

So to have the London Chilli Festival in this amber, umber and burnt sienna world is perfect. Its location at Spitalfields City farm enhances the harvest festival feel and allows a welcome breath of wholesome air. This was before the smoky roasting, grilling and frying of various meats enveloped the occasion. This was the first of what will hopefully be a regular festival occurrence and the vendors at the various stalls were keen to educate, showcase and of course, sell their goods.

As you'd expect, most stalls were selling chilli based comestibles like sauces, dipping oils and dressings. Some had added frighteningly hot new varieties to piccachillis, jams and other condiments. My favourite stalls were the 'raw ingredient' ones, with the boggling range of dried chillies on offer from Capsicana Chilli Co making me salivate as I bought a selection. Pepper and Stew offered spice mixes to create African dishes at home. Other stalls were selling seeds and plants but my urge to garden has been replaced by the need to create some warming soups! 

Which is what I did this evening. Taking a Mexican pumpkin soup as my inspiration I adapted it to the ingredients available at home.

In a bowl, pour some hot water over a couple each of chipotle mora and Ancho Poblano and steep for 10-15 mins. At this point I couldn't resist inhaling the smoky, sweet fragrance from the two. 

Chop a large onion, several large courgettes, a red pepper and fry, allowing to singe slightly whilst stirring occasionally so they really soften. Letting them roast in the oven would have worked. Once the dried chillies are soft, chop roughly and blend to a thick paste with some of the liquid. Add a tin of tomatoes, the paste (don't drop some on your foot like I did) and the rest of the soaking liquid. Add seasoning, with a generous sprinkling of ground ginger, cumin, cinnamon and allspice - I added a sprinkle of celery salt which is very savoury. Stir well and add a little chicken/bacon/vege stock to loosen. 

Bring to the boil and reduce the heat so it simmers healthily for about 10-15 mins. Once the veg is soft, remove from the hob and blend. At this point my soup resembled a meaty sauce, thick and satisfying, so you could thin if you want something more polite. Personally, I would have also added some kidney beans if I'd had any... I ladled into bowls, drizzled with Dave's chilli oil, and sprinkled with strong cheese. It would have looked amazing with some chopped, fresh, green coriander leaf.

The soup's fragrance was that heady mix of bonfire night, cough pastilles, gingerbread and cinnamon hot chocolate. A soup to set off fireworks of taste and make one glad that the nights are finally drawing in. 

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