Harissa Hot Sauce

One of the toughest moments every gardener has to face is “the glut.” At some point, towards the end of the growing season, you will have way too much… of a lot of things, (and not just zucchini). You can either cook really fast, or give some of your excess produce to the neighbors. Sometimes local food banks or relief agencies will accept donations of fresh food. But you can also find a way to preserve your summer harvest for later use. Once upon a time, everyone with a garden would dry, and pickle, and can. But those skills seem to be an almost lost art.

I try to preserve, in one way or another, everything that I can. But, until recently, that never included my hot peppers. Yes, I’d toss a few in the freezer, but I would always forget that they were there. We love spicy food in my house, and grow at least 5 varieties of hot/hotter/unbelievably-hot peppers every year. The plants are easy to grow, gorgeous to look at, and produce bushels of multi colored jewel-like peppers with minimal effort. So, what could I do with a glut of them?

Cooking dinner shouldn't be complicated

I started to wonder about making my own hot sauce. There are obviously plenty of hot sauces available in grocery stores (and they’re… fine). But none that really excite me. They all seem too salty, or too vinegary, or just one dimensionally HOT. Knowing my yard is full of very delicious peppers of differing flavors and heat levels, it seemed some research and experimentation were in order. 

Turns out, homemade hot sauce is really easy to make and an incredible way to make use of a load of peppers. Here’s what you need to know about making your own.

What Kind of Peppers Can I Use to Make Hot Sauce?

Whatever hot peppers you may have growing are fair game; this includes: jalapeños, habaneros, serranos, fresnos, and poblanos. Personally, I like to use a mix and would encourage you to try the same. Each variety of pepper contributes different flavors, not just different heat levels. This alone will make your sauce more interesting than most grocery store sauces.

As for the type of vinegar you’ll need, plain white vinegar works fine. 

How to Make Fresh Hot Sauce

First:  a bit of a warning. Wear food-safe gloves when handling hot peppers. And please resist the temptation to open your blender right away to take a deep sniff of your new creation… you will likely regret it. And if you can, have wide open windows and fans turned on high during this whole process. 

Now, there are a few basic approaches to making a fresh hot sauce, all of which are fairly easy. 

The easiest way is taking some chopped hot peppers, salt, and vinegar and blending them until smooth-ish. This will keep in the fridge for a few months. With trial and error, you’ll come to figure out your own preference regarding amounts of salt and vinegar.

You can also cook that first sauce for a few minutes, puree, and strain (or not). This will keep a bit longer.

Or, you can move into the more complex realm, and cook some combination of garlic, onions, carrots, and fruit in a bit of oil until soft, add the chopped peppers, salt and vinegar. Simmer that combination gently for about 20 minutes, then puree. Water can always be added if the puree is too thick and you don’t want to add more vinegar.

These methods are very basic, and as you play with them, you’ll discover what you like best. And, because of “the glut,” you can do plenty of experimenting. And none of your experiments will be bad, so play to your heart's content.

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