Once we were in the supermarket checkout queue and it was one of those random moments when the shopper behind us struck up a conversation. Actually it was hardly a conversation, just a brief friendly moment, when the other shopper commented that our groceries looked like a Masterchef mystery box. And indeed it did, because it was a motley harvest comprising of one pear, one tray of mince, one onion, a block of chocolate, and a couple of bananas.
That mystery box comment came to mind a few days ago when I was making one of my ‘clean out the fridge’ stir fries. Sitting on the counter was a random collection of ingredients which would soon be united to form a delicious meal.
- One choko, courtesy of my aunt, which I had had for ages and didn’t quite know what to do with
- A third of a zucchini
- Half a bunch of garlic chives
- A tray of pork mince
- A knob of ginger
- Some mushrooms
- One eggplant
- Half a bunch of coriander
- A bunch of vietnamese mint from my parent’s garden.
The magic ingredient which turns this bunch of delinquents into a tasty dish is Chilli Jam (or Nam Prik Pao in Thai). Because I wasn’t able to find ready-made chilli jam which didn’t have sugar or vegetable oil, I decided to make my own, and it is not difficult especially if you have a blender or food processor, although it does take a bit of time so I like to make extra which can be frozen. You can also use Chilli Jam to make Thai dishes like Beef Chilli Basil stir fry.
Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)
- 100g whole dried chillis, rinsed
- 60g dried shrimp, rinsed
- 250ml light olive oil
- 60g garlic cloves
- 200g red or brown shallots, peeled and roughly sliced (also can use red onion, diced)
- 12g belachan shrimp paste
- 55g fish sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 100g tamarind pulp + 160g warm/hot water
- First, toast your shrimp paste. Break it up into smaller pieces and wrap it in a flat foil parcel. Roast in a preheated 200°C oven for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.*
- Prepare tamarind water by combining the tamarind pulp and warm water and let it soak for 5 minutes. Squeeze the pulp with your hands to release the sour goodness, then strain through a sieve set over a small bowl. Retain the water, discard the pulp.
- In a frying pan over medium-high heat, dry fry the chillis for 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Next, I fried the dried shrimp for 2-3 minutes until they changed colour slightly and became fragrant. Set aside.
- Heat up the oil in a deep frying pan or wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and fry until light golden brown, around 7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Keep the oil.
- When the shallot and garlic has cooled, I put it into my Omniblend together with the shrimp paste, dried shrimp and dried chillis and blended it until a slightly coarse paste formed.
- Re-heat the oil over medium-low heat and add all the chilli paste. Cook on gentle heat for around 5 minutes or until it becomes fragrant. Add the fish sauce, salt and tamarind water and cook for a further 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Transfer the paste you will be using in the next couple of weeks into a jar and store in the fridge. Freeze the remainer.
*I discovered a nifty shortcut using toastie pockets. Toastie pockets are made from heat-resistant greaseproof material and can go in the toaster. I simply wrap the shrimp paste in foil, place in a toastie pocket and into the toaster, which I have cranked up to the medium setting.