Sweet Little Jar of Red Hot Stuff - Pepper Jelly
Drawn by the pretty slashes of blood red that added a pop of color and heat to plain water crackers at the bustling sampling counter in our suburban Trader Joe's, we were in for a pleasant surprise. That taste of hot pepper jelly was quite a revelation for our spice-accustomed taste-buds. The jammy sweetness rushed to hit our tongues, tempered with hints of chillies and a lovely peppery aroma, the vinegary acidity nicely rounding off the flavors. Jelly, we then learnt, is usually made from fruit juice, unlike jam or preserves that have pulp or pieces of fruit in them. It is a little thicker than jam and of course, in its most popular avatar - grape jelly - along with peanut butter, it makes up America's most loved lunchbox sandwich, the PB&J. It is hardly a surprise then that between jelly, jam and preserves, it is usually the jelly that has the maximum percentage of sugar content.
It took no time for the irresistible red pepper jelly and its variants, among them ginger jelly, cranberry jelly and raspberry jelly to take up shelf-space as condiments of choice in our homes. We like spreading sticky dollops of these on buttered toast, savoring it with our cheese and crackers, adding spoonfuls to dals and curries for pizzaz, even getting it to work as a salad dressing at times, by whisking it with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a bit of sesame oil.
Our recipe for Red Hot Pepper Jelly that follows has five simple ingredients, a couple of easy steps and needs no special equipment. It uses the natural pectin of apples to set the jelly, rather than calling for commercial pectin. However, the jelly is deliciously knock-your-socks-off hot and would probably come with several warnings were it to be sold in American stores. If you're looking for more moderate heat, do adjust the amounts of hot and sweet peppers that you use. But if, like us, you're the "Bring it on!" type, we reckon that you will never go back to a store-bought jar after trying this spirited adaptation.
- Place the chillies, pepper/capsicum and apple in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely mashed. Transfer the mixture (along with any juices) to a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pan. Add the vinegar and sugar. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often, for about 25-30 minutes or until the jelly thickens. A tiny bit of jelly when placed on a frozen plate will appear to be set, rather than runny. The jelly will thicken as it cools, do not overcook or else it will get too tight and hard to spread.
- Ladle the jelly into clean glass jars and allow to cool before covering. We just refrigerated our jars, but you could also follow the instructions here to can the jelly, as needed.
Note - if you want to reduce the heat level, you could also remove the inner membranes of the hot chilles. Conversely, to increase the heat, add half a teaspoon of crushed chillies to your jelly as it cooks.
Keep a jar on the table and you will soon be eating it alongside your stuffed parathas or flatbread, and adding a layer of jelly to jazz up that boring turkey sandwich.
Its good with all kinds of crackers - rusks, khakhra and mathris..with or without the cream cheese. Or impart a kicked-up sweet-spicy edge to your next Asian stir-fry by stirring in a spoonful.
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