Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Handle With Care

This evening I was craving Ethiopian food, after a recent dip in the Blue Nile with family in town from WI (thanks, btw, for a nice night), so I set about making a big pot of vegetables cooked in butter and spices: onion, ginger, garlic, cabbage, potato, carrot, green beans, slivered almonds and--why not?--a couple peppers from the garden. I picked out one mild Hungarian Wax, and then a hot one--a pretty little bright orange thing, all wrinkled and pointy and light as a feather, like a strange Chinese lantern. The Fatali.

I'd noticed this plant from the get-go, way back at the Friends School Sale, because of its unusual leaves and growth habit. Unlike other peppers, which all look more or less the same by comparison, this one has wide, almost heart-shaped leaves of a slightly soft and puckered texture which circle the stem in a horizontal way, creating almost a rosette around the growth points. The plants are short and bushy (or at least ours were), a lighter and more vibrant green than the standard dark & shiny of most pepper plants. Quite pretty.

Taking a cue from its name, I thought it might be prudent to sample the Fatali first, so I cut off the tip and had a taste. Not bad, a little hot but nothing I couldn't handle. I was expecting a bit more, with a name like that... Slicing up the rest of it I noticed that, on top of its phenomenal color, it smelled amazing--citrusy, sweet, earthy almost. Difficult to describe but definitely unique, exciting, enticing... One small pepper, minced, yielded maybe a tablespoon or two which I casually tossed into the giant cast iron roaster on top of the onions, garlic and ginger. No sooner had I done that than my lungs were met by a cloud of burn so hot it forced my breath out in an involuntary cough, a cough which persisted as I stirred the pot--and it didn't stop there... The steam wafted out of the kitchen and hit CM, two rooms away, causing him to cough as well. At one point it actually crossed my mind that the fumes alone might burn my eyeballs. That hot.

And thus it came to pass that my lovely stew, which was otherwise nicely spiced with a bit of nutmeg, freshly ground cardamom, a dash of cinnamon and a generous amount of turmeric, and which (along with the perfect buttered brown basmati rice with cardamom) was to be my answer to the question of what to eat for lunch during the remainder of the week, turned from potential non-Minnesotan "comfort food" to the culinary equivalent of "burning hell" in one short breath. Fatali, I now know.

Still pretty damn good, though. This one will be in the garden again next year, for sure.

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