This is the story about how spicy food worked its way into my life and how I ended up with Ghost Pepper Salsa in my house.
I was that Midwestern kid who thought black pepper was hot. I lived in my happy bubble of butter and garlic salt and never questioned the outside world beyond.
Then I met Jason, a Texas guy whose motto seems to be: “if you’re not sweating, you’re not trying hard enough.”
You might say it was our only personality clash.
My lack of heat tolerance was simply unacceptable to Jason, seeing as the majority of his favorite foods involved some sort of pepper. So he set out to change my ways…stealthily.
Over the course of six months, unbeknownst to me, Jason began slowly and covertly incorporating peppers into our diet. I don’t remember anything being “off” during that time—except for the occasional “did some of your jalapenos make it into my food?!”—but I do remember the day when I eventually exclaimed out loud, “Oh man, this is pretty spicy!”
His response? “You know, you wouldn’t have even been able to eat that six months ago.”
And thus, the ruse was up and I started appreciating spice. Although I still refuse to sweat for it.
Flash forward to present day…
Jason has the kind of coworkers who send him home with homegrown produce. This is Colorado, after all. His boss is known to bring him spaghetti squash from her garden and Beth and Lyndsay are prone to sharing their newest canned concoctions. Let’s just say, they know he likes to eat.
His most recent bounty came from Lyndsay in the form of peppers plucked straight from her impressive urban homestead garden. There were three types of peppers to be exact: holy moles, habaneros, and ghost peppers [read: mild, super hot, and HOTTEST KNOWN PEPPER ON THE PLANET].
She also sent him home with a jar of her Holy Matrimony Habanero Jam*. The story goes: when she was making the jam after her recent wedding, she donned what in the hazmat world is called Level C Personal Protective Equipment [also known as an air purifying respirator and rubber gloves]. And those weren’t even the hottest peppers in the bag!
The hottest peppers where most certainly the ghost peppers, which sit on the Scoville Heat Scale just below pepper spray. PEPPER SPRAY! To give you a sense of severity, Jalapenos usually boast between 2,500-8,000 SHU [Scoville Heat Units], while Habaneros run between 100,000 and 350,000 SHU. Ghost peppers? Oh, they have OVER A MILLION SHU.
So obviously, Jason had found his new toy.
He was determined to make salsa out of these bad boys. For what gain, I’m still not sure, but I have to admit, the results were surprisingly good. Even though I could only handle one chip’s worth.
THIS is a salsa to sweat over, and it is dedicated to all of Jason’s “spice adventurer” kindred spirits out there.
GHOST PEPPER SALSA
- ½ an onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 6 ghost peppers, seeded and stemmed [or use 2 if you want to lighten it up]
- 2 cans tomatoes [crushed, diced, or what have you]
- Handful of sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 2 to 3 T. red wine vinegar
- About 1/4 c. water
- About 1/3 c. olive oil
- Chop your onion, red bell pepper, and garlic and place in saucepan.
- Don your rubber gloves and mask protective gear—trust us, you’re going to want them—and carefully de-seed and de-stem the ghost peppers. Make sure to get all of the seeds out. Feel free to rinse if necessary.**
3. After placing the peppers in the saucepan, add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, red wine vinegar, and enough water to cover the ingredients.
4. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for an hour. [You will most likely need to open some windows and turn on the stove fan while you do this. I had to remove myself from the house entirely.]
5. Once ready, transfer the mixture to a food processor to emulsify, a fancy word that basically means to slowly combine two normally unmixable substances. In this case: salsa and oil. To emulsify: turn on the food processor and add a few drops of oil. Let incorporate, then add a few drops more. Continue until you’re comfortable adding in a slow stream. [The processes is similar in technique to tempering.] This will help cut some of the heat and thicken it up.
Now serve up in a bowl and trick your sister into thinking it’s just normal salsa. She’ll hate you forever.
The salsa trio: Peach salsa, Mild salsa, Ghost pepper salsa
* Holy Matrimony Habanero Jam is especially tasty basted on roasted or grilled pork tenderloin.
** The hot stuff in peppers is not water-soluble, but it is oil soluble. So if you accidentally get pepper juice on you, try using oil rather than water to get it off.