Hot Pepper Relish (Chicago, September 22- October 6, 2011)

The last two weeks have been silent on the blog but full of activity otherwise. I left London, returned to Chicago for two weeks and moved to Berlin. There was also a trip to Cedar Point in Ohio and the neighboring town of Sandusky. We got to go to the amusement park at night- a real experience- and we took back-roads the whole way on our return journey, which took us through many small towns, by marshes and through woods. It is a wonderful memory that I’ll keep with me for a long time.

It’s been a challenging two weeks, and I’m thankful that I have the support of people like my very patient partner Cesar, my family, and my friends in Chicago. I’ve never been so scared to do something, I think, than to make this move. Going to London was different. Obviously there’s no language barrier for English-speakers in the U.K., but I think more significant was the fact that I was not going there as a resident. Nine months in Berlin isn’t forever, but it’s three times longer than the time I spent in London, and that means doing things from the beginning as if I lived here: renting an apartment, registration, opening a bank account, applying for a residence permit, learning the language and complying with the customs. Living “als Berliner.” There’s also the structure of the grant I have and the nature of my relationship with the host institution, which is quite a bit different than my setup in London and trickier to negotiate. Needless to say, I haven’t had much time to even think about the real reason I’m here, which is to continue dissertation research and writing.

I must admit that I’ve had a negative attitude toward this move over the last few months. I blocked it out, pretending that it wouldn’t have to happen. In hindsight, that was a childish and ungrateful way to approach the opportunity before me, which is truly wonderful. I’ve made a decision to embrace the change rather than find ways around it.

The following recipe is about those two weeks in Chicago though- a sort of last hurrah before I fully embrace Berlin, its markets and its foods. On our drive back from Sandusky, we got to go to one of those farms that allows you to pick produce from the field at a cheaper rate. One of the crops that was just finishing was chili peppers. Pepper season is coming to a close quickly, so grab them while you can at the market and if you have some stockpiled in your kitchen, this recipe is a great way to make them last a bit longer.

Note: This recipe is based on one I saw in the New York Times a couple of years ago. I’ve modified it to make it spicier and also less runny. Instead of adding the liquid used to blanch the vegetables to the blender as suggested in the NYT, I prefer to use only a couple of spoons of this sparingly to help blend, if necessary. You can use any type of red chilies (the red is for the color), and the amount is not an exact science. I used a ratio of about 3 hot to 1 sweet, but you can modify this to suit your taste.

Hot Pepper Relish


6-7 hot red peppers (e.g. habanero, cayenne)

2-3 sweet red peppers

4 cloves garlic (leave these whole)

3 cups white vinegar



Peel the garlic but do not chop. Remove the stems from the chilies and sweet peppers, and also the seeds if you want it to be less spicy.

Place the peppers, garlic and vinegar in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a simmer, blanching the vegetables until just soft but not overcooking them. Be careful leaning over the pot – the vapors from this process can be quite sharp and will sting your eyes.

When soft, remove the garlic cloves and peppers and put them in the jar of a blender with two generous pinches of salt. Pulse for a few seconds. If the mixture will not move, add a tablespoon of the vinegar to get it moving. Pulse in short intervals until the mixture is consistent but still has a bit of texture- you don’t want this to be runny or have big chunks.

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