Timor-Leste is filled with fresh produce! We love that there are markets where we can buy fruit and vegetables that have been grown locally. Especially after eating food that had been in transportation for a week or more where we lived previously. The men with carts selling vegetables now stop at our gate most mornings calling out “vegetables” to sell us their wares. They usually have potatoes, cabbage, carrots, beans, onions, garlic, mystery greens, limes, tomatoes and little bags of grains including lentils, corn, rice and pasta for sale.
One of the things that is for sale everywhere here is the chilli. Chilli paste or sauce accompanies most meals and is for sale in every little hole in the wall store. Early in our time in Dilli i received a text from Jason one day declaring he had tasted the hottest chilli ever in his life that day. If his descriptions are to be believed it burned on the way in and out of his body. The chillies here are powerful with more punch than we realised.
In living in Asia, my cooking has tended to become more asian in style and ingredients. I guess that is to be expected when that is what is most easily available in the stores here. So as i have been cooking stir fries and noodle soups with more frequency, i have started to experiment a little more with chilli in my cooking. When we first arrived i used a jar of locally bought green curry paste to make some curried noodle soup, a favourite recipe of Jason’s that i used to make often in Arnhem Land. The curry paste i used there required several tablespoons of paste to achieve the taste we liked. So i began cooking here with that idea in my mind, boy was i wrong! The curry soup was so hot that night, that Jason and i could barely eat it, and we supplied Sam with an alternate meal, as this was a battle we were never going to win, getting him to eat spice of that strength. The journey to find the right amount of curry paste went on and we discovered through a few more attempts that 2 teaspoons of paste was the correct amount, but it took a few burnt tongues and a few jugs of cold water along the way.
In the last week, as we have unpacked and settled back into our timorese life, the cursed chilli has struck again. After watching a couple of Jamie Oliver DVDs and reading several of his cookbooks looking for menu inspiration, i again attempted to integrate chills into our diet. After all, for Oliver, chillies are just another everyday commonly used ingredient that he adds to EVERY dish, including dessert. I was wondering if i was missing out on something by not using them in my cooking. So the slow cooker full of spaghetti bolognaise become my next victim. The chillies here are very small, the slow cooker rather large, so i imagined that four of the tiny chillies would give the pasta sauce a nice warming sensation. Boy was i wrong. I’m not sure if the head cold i was suffering from at the time had addled my brain, but the force was stronger than i imagined, which led to me trying to add water and try to extinguish the fiery flavour i had created. I didn’t quite succeed, but by the time we ate dinner, it still made Jason and i sweat a little more and Sam had a few moans and complaints about the spiciness, although the lure of olives in the sauce distracted him fairly well.
I really am a slow learner! Last night, asian chicken noodle soup was on the menu and i thought i’d leave extra ingredients on the table for each of us to spice up their meal as they desired. Fried onion, carrot, cabbage, limes and chillies were just some of the options up for grabs. Thinking i had learnt my lesson with the spaghetti bolognaise, i decided to go sparingly with the chilli. Just four thin slices of the timorese tiny chillies was added to my bowl. Bad idea! The nose was running, the sweat increased and mouthfuls containing these tiny pieces were very unpleasant to eat. Jason thought i was over reacting, so i offloaded two pieces into his bowl, and suddenly he was agreeing with me whole heartedly. So my conclusion? I think i my ratio of chilli consumption is one or two microscopic slices of chilli in a bowl of food. I will never be a Jamie Oliver style chilli chef who adds it to everything from rice, to salad and even brownies! And at this rate of consumption the bag of chillies that i bought will last me for years… or at least long enough to cause us all another fiery meal.