Though we often cheat and hope for no frost (or April snow, as was the case this year), the safe time for backyard planting where I live is always said to begin on Mother’s Day.
Ever since my husband and I bought our first house, we’ve planted a garden. There is something so satisfying about a meal that includes ingredients that were just picked with your own hands.
When it comes to choosing what to plant, we aren’t especially creative. We plant the things we like to eat and tend to stick with what has flourished in seasons past.
I’ve always admired the adventurous approach to gardening taken by one of my good friends. Over the years, she has sown seeds for everything from watermelon to artichokes, and her plantings are often tied to kitchen projects she thinks her children will enjoy.
One day last summer, my friend called to ask if her son could bring over a bottle of hot sauce he made with homegrown habanero peppers. The spicy condiment was a reminder that a garden can offer so much more than crisp salad greens, juicy tomatoes, and a bounty of zucchini, and I was thrilled that my opinion was requested!
Of course, when a 13-year-old boy with whom I have a long history asks for an honest opinion, I take it very seriously. I had four bottles of hot sauce in my kitchen, and he was game for a taste test. I had bread and milk ready to reduce the fire that would surely burn our mouths, although I’ve since learned that honey and peanut butter offer a more effective way to fan the flame.
What intrigued us both was how different these sauces tasted. We tend to think of hot sauce in terms of how-big-is-the-burn, but the flavor nuances are easy to detect when sampling small drops side by side.
Sriracha is tangy, garlicky, and a little sweet. Red and green Tabasco sauces have a pronounced vinegar flavor and thin consistency, with the green version providing milder heat than the classic red variety. Frank’s Original Cayenne Pepper sauce is slightly thicker, and its heat is balanced by some sweetness. Overall, we agreed that the Sriracha and Frank’s sauces offered less heat but more accompanying flavor than the Tabasco sauces. Beyond the heat factor, the Tabasco sauces tasted more neutral.
And then there was the freshly made habanero sauce, and it offered the biggest bang of the bunch. (For the record, we tasted two drops of each hot sauce with recovery breaks to “cleanse” our palates in between.) Because of the well-chosen ingredients beyond the requisite peppers, this fiery sauce offered outstanding flavor along with the heat. Like the Sriracha and Frank’s Original, it was velvety in texture, but without the sweetness.
If you’re fond of Sriracha or Frank’s Original sauce and would welcome a slightly hotter version, this sauce is for you. And while it’s an exceptional way to use a bounty of habanero peppers from your own backyard plants, these peppers can be found at most large grocery stores throughout the year.
Yield: 2 cups
- 5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1/2 cup peeled, chopped carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
- 5 scallions, trimmed and sliced
- 12 medium (about 5 ounces) orange habanero chilies, stemmed
- 1 red chili pepper*
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
Roast the garlic in a skillet over medium heat, turning regularly until soft and blackened in spots, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool and peel.
In a small saucepan, combine the carrot, scallions, habanero chilies, and red chili pepper with the vinegar and 1 cup water. Partially cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Pour into a blender, and then add the roasted garlic, salt, and sugar. Blend until smooth. You may thin with a little additional water if you think your hot sauce is too thick. Taste the sauce and season it with additional salt if you think necessary.
Pour the hot sauce into jars or bottles and store in the refrigerator. The sauce will keep for many months.
- *The red chili pepper creates an especially pretty color. In a pinch, however, it may be omitted.
The color of this spicy sauce is gorgeous…and it’s heat is worthy of serious hot sauce fans.