Category Archives: Cooking with Herbs

Grandma Guillan’s Chili Sauce Recipe

Steve’s grandmother’s maiden name is Ghilain,  a spelling that was probably mangled by US census takers because it changes as you go back generations.  Her grandfather was a John Guillan who lived near Dundee around 1827. We don’t know much more about the family except that John was a farmer/butcher known for his skill in curing pork.

Anyway,  I love the woman dearly, but since she’s not much of a cook.  (Seriously, she’s famous for spaghetti ala Grandma which entails adding hamburger and onions to FrancoAmerican spaghetti.) So I assume that this recipe is probably  great-grandmother’s.

I doubt it goes further back than that, because I don’t think it’s a particularly UK-ish type sauce.  Although  chili sauce and A1 sauce are similar to the brown sauce  they use in the UK as a condiment.  In Edinburgh, they thin it down with malt vinegar and serve it on fish and chips. Basically you use any of them way you would ketchup.

I don’t like ketchup, but I do like this because its tangier.  Steve really likes it on the black-eyed peas we make for New Year’s Eve.

I have tweaked it ever so slightly (I can’t help myself) because I use fresh ginger and cayenne, but other than that I’ve left it alone.

1 peck of tomatoes (around 13 lbs of tomatoes)
2 cups ground onions
1 cup bell peppers
2 cups brown sugar
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup salt
2 teaspoons chopped ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne flakes (I use a bit of freshly chopped)
1 tsp allspice
3 teaspoons cinnamon chips
1 teaspoon  cloves

I begin this recipe by processing the peck of tomatoes the same way I would for plain tomato sauce, I cut off the stems and any bad spots.  I weigh mine after I do this, so I only used 12 pounds.

Then I put them in a stainless-steel pot with 2 cups of water and I heat them over medium heat until they are quite liquid.   Then I put them through our food mill.

I still don’t know about this contraption, I think I like my food mill better. I only get it out for large batches. If you use one of these things, run the pulp it spits out as waste through a few times to make sure you are getting everything.

Once I have the proto-sauce made,  I put it in my stainless-steel brew pot with a thick bottom.  Grandma’s recipe called for tying the herbs up in a bundle, so I grind them up just a bit and put them in a muslin hops bag and tie it to the handle like this.

One benefit of being married to a homebrewer is that I have dozens of these bags.

Then you just simmer this until it has reduced to about half. I am not going to mislead you, this takes a long time.  Think of it as a tomato decoction, and while simmering them for this long does vitamin C content, it raises the amount of bio-available lycopene and other antioxidants, substantially.

Ladle the sauce into sterilized pint jars.  Process with hot water bath method for 10 minutes. This should boil down to about 7 pints of sauce.


Habanero Beer Mustard

One of the things that Charles brought up in his class Sunday was mustard plasters, and I couldn’t help but think that mustard is really one of those plants I  don’t talk about enough. It’s kind of odd, because I order pounds of yellow mustard powder and mustard seeds every year.  I even put mustard powder in the crusts I make for savory pies and sausage rolls.

I do this because I know that using spices and condiment serves a purpose beyond preservation of food, or adding flavor. Our ancestors knew it, too.  In the earliest Roman cookbook, we learn that the author understood that the salts and condiments he made had health promoting benefits[1]. In later years, we find recipes for spice blends given names like “Powders that Digest Foods”[2] and so on.

It’s my theory that our ancestors tolerated higher amounts of saturated fats and the like in their diets better because they ate this way. I spend a lot of time reminding people about this.  It is the reason that I share so many recipes on this blog. Human beings should be eating our herbs and spices daily, as part of a preventative regimen.

One of the things that’s amazing about eating real mustard as a condiment with high fat foods is that it seems to help our bodies metabolize those fats. Modern food scientists confirmed this quite some time ago.[3]   It’s also a brassica. So, all those glucosinolates that are good for you in kale and cabbage, are also in mustard seeds.[4]

That’s enough of a footnoted introduction for a recipe, so here I am going to share yet another recipe that uses up some of these peppers that are going crazy in my yard.  Don’t worry, it won’t be the last.  I have a lot more to use up.

The most fun thing about today is that for the first time ever, I am using a homebrewed beer to make beer mustard!

Habanero Beer Mustard

1 cup brown mustard seeds
1 cup yellow mustard seed
1/3 cup powdered yellow mustard
1 12-oz beer
½ cup white wine vinegar
4 tbsp. honey
1 habanero pepper

Put the mustard seeds and powder in a glass bowl. Add the beer and vinegar to the mustard, cover the bowl and let it sit for at least 12 hours. I prefer 24.

Strain the seeds but keep the liquid. De-seed your habanero and chop it finely.  ( You can add more if you like, but I don’t like for the spice to overwhelm the other flavors.) Add it to the mustard seeds along with the honey. Slowly pour the liquid you kept back into the seeds while blending them. I use my immersion blender for this. A food processor isn’t going to grind the seeds for you even when they are hydrated. Keep adding liquid until your mustard is a nice consistency. Put the mustard in sterilized jars and process it, or just keep them in the fridge.

[1] Apicius. Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome. Translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling. 1926 Reprint. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 400AD.

[2] Anon. The Book of Cooking in Maghreb and Andalus in the Era of Almohads. Translated by Martinelli, Candida. 2012 translation. Al-Andulus, Spain: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1400.

[3] Khan, Beena A., Annie Abraham, and S. Leelamma. “Biochemical Response in Rats to the Addition of Curry Leaf (Murraya Koenigii) and Mustard Seeds (Brassica Juncea) to the Diet.” Plant Foods for Human Nutrition (Formerly Qualities’ Plantarum) 49, no. 4 (1996): 295–299.

[4] 1. Merah O. Genetic Variability in Glucosinolates in Seed of Brassica juncea: Interest in Mustard Condiment. Journal of Chemistry. 2015.

Nasturtium Salsa

Over the weekend, I spent some  time  with my herb people because Charles Garcia swung through Iowa CIty on his cross-country herbal tour.  He stayed at my place for a few days and some locals were lucky enough to glean some of his wisdom.   As he was leaving this morning, he took some pictures of my garden. They  reminded me that I have a lot of good stuff growing to use up.  Today I picked more peppers and some nasturtiums.

I won’t use all the peppers.

Nasturtium is plant that was introduced to Europe from Peru in the 16th Century. They aren’t a perennial in Iowa, but unlike some plants that came from South America it naturalizes quite well in cooler climates and will generally re-seed itself.  If you like this recipe remember not to use up all your flowers, let some of them go to seed.

In the following recipes, the leaves take the place of cilantro, which I appreciate because it bolts pretty quickly in Iowa and I never have any when my peppers and tomatoes are ripe.

I can’t take credit for this particular idea entirely as I’ve seen it in a few cookbooks from the UK, including including Jekka McVicar’s, but of course I can’t leave any recipe alone.  It’s been tweaked quite a bit because I like a little more flavor.

4 large tomatoes peeled
2 small red chile peppers ( You can cut back to one)
1 Serrano pepper
1 medium size green chile pepper or a sweet green pepper
2 red onions
1 good hand full of nasturtium leaves
3 tbsp of red wine vinegar
Juice from 1 good size lime
1 tsp cumin
Salt to taste
Nasturtium petals for garnish

If you don’t already know this a quick way to peel tomatoes is to pop them in some boiling water until you see the skins split. Then you can slip them right off.

Put the tomatoes in your food processor and process them until they are a consistency you like. My boys don’t like chunks so I puree mine up pretty well. Then chop the onions, peppers and nasturtium leaves and stir them into the tomatoes. Add the vinegar, lime juice, cumin and salt. Chop the flower petals and use them as a garnish.

If you make a lot, I suppose you could can this, but I don’t enjoy cooking salsa, so I freeze mine.