Reader Galen Kitamura e-mailed the Taste section to ask for a recipe for chile pepper water (chile peppa watah in pidgin).
This request is interesting because chile pepper water is one of those staples that we take for granted until the person in the family who generally made the stuff passes on — Grandpa's pickled onions, Mama's kim chee, Auntie's takuwan. How did they do that, again? Of course, you can buy chile pepper water in stores and sometimes at farmer's markets and craft fairs, but it's easy to make at home if you've got access to the peppers. It's also a useful and inexpensive holiday gift. And there are many different recipes, offering a range of flavors. Chile pepper water is splashed around like shoyu or ketchup — on plate lunches, entrees, vegetables, salads, everything but fruit or dessert. The peppers traditional used for chile pepper water are the so-called Hawaiian chilies, which are pungent and hot, skinny, tapering peppers 2 to 2 1/2 inches long, bright red when ripe. Thai bird peppers, Serrano or jalapenos can be substituted. Peppers are called nioi in Hawaiian and are said to have been brought to Hawai'i by Don Francisco de Paul Marin.
How chile pepper water became a common condiment on Hawai'i tables is not clear. Portuguese have a tradition of pickling vegetables in hot vinegar water, but so do other western societies, and, in different ways, Japanese. Certainly it has appeal across the multicultural board. Although you can make chile pepper water with just that — water and chilies, most recipes call for salt or a splash of vinegar. Some are true pickling mixtures of equal parts water and vinegar. And garlic, ginger and other ingredients find their way into some recipes. Commercial varieties are generally on the simple side and may contain food coloring or stabilizing ingredients to keep the product from becoming cloudy. The cloudiness, by the way, although not pretty, does not indicate spoilage. However you make it, chile pepper water should be packed in sterilized jars. First, select a well-made jar with no cracks in it. Boil a deep pot of water; using tongs, carefully lower jar or jars into boiling water and turn off heat. Allow to sit 10 minutes or so. Remove, drain and fill with hot chile pepper water.
Hawaiian Chile Pepper Water
- 1 clean, used bottle with a good tight cap. (I used a clean olive oil bottle from Trader Joe’s as the cap includes a plastic strainer)
- 12 dried red chile peppers (I used dried red chile flakes instead)
- 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- Optional: I also added a few tbsp of dried garlic
- 4 fresh Thai chilies, thinly sliced
- 2 red jalapenos, thinly sliced (these are just for color and variety)
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 3 cups hot water
1. Push the peppers and garlic into clean bottle.
2. Mix the vinegar, salt and hot water.
3. Pour the liquid into the bottle to cover the chilies. Let cool.
4. Cap the bottle and store it in the refrigerator. It should keep for about a month. (I used mine for much much longer. Remember, vinegar is a preservative)
5. Sprinkle this spicy, garlicky water over your food as the Hawaiians do. Enjoy!