Truly, there are as many hot sauces as there are people — and this one, with its slow-burning habanero heat and bold, sweet kick of vanilla — is bound to be come a favorite.
Hot sauce is wonderfully simple and magnificently complex all at the same time. Each one begins with five elements: fire (chiles), mineral (salt), sour (acid), spice (aromatics), and sweet (fruit or vegetal sugars — think carrots or pineapple). Then the fun begins. Truly, there are as many hot sauces as there are people — and, as it turns out, it is pretty easy to make one that is good, if not downright fantastic.
Vanilla Habanero Mash is a blended sauce, meaning that ultimately everything gets puréed together for a thicker paste that is then fermented to perfection. Because the habanero is a thin-walled pepper, it lends itself to a smooth mash (no straining), if you’ve removed the seeds. We have taken this mash on the road to demos and classes. Among those hearty souls who love heat and are brave enough to try it in public, it has been very popular. The strong vanilla flavor provides an incredible surprise — right after the surprise, and right before the heat sinks in for a long burn, we usually hear, “I love it!” It’s certainly one of our favorites and works beautifully with the sweet-tart combination of apricots and cranberries in crunchy, nutrient-packed nut bars we like to use it for.
If you prefer more sweet with your heat, our book Fiery Ferments includes recipes for adding homemade pear syrup to the mix for a straight hot sauce or a dessert topper that is amazing on churros, ice cream, or “edgy” pancakes. However you prefer it, if you make a small jar of habanero mash during the harvest season, you will be able to enjoy its bite for months to come.
Vanilla Habanero Mash
Yield: About 1 pint
Heat Index: 4–5
- ¾ pound habaneros, stemmed and seeded
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 vanilla bean, cut into ¼- to ½-inch chunks
- Combine the chiles and salt in a food processor and process into a mash.
- Mix in the vanilla bean pieces and pack the mash into a pint jar, pressing out any air pockets as you go. Leave about 1 inch of headspace. Screw the lid down tightly.
- Set the jar aside to ferment, out of direct sunlight, for 14 to 21 days. For the first week or two, check daily to make sure that the mash is submerged in the brine.
- Start tasting the ferment on day 14. It’s ready when the flavor is lightly acidic and the vanilla notes provide sweetness. Continue to ferment as needed.
- Use as is, or blend to break down the vanilla beans (the mash will look flecked). Store the mash in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 12 months or more.
Apricot-Cranberry Pepper Crunch Bars
Yield: About a dozen bars
- 1 cup almonds
- ⅓ cup raw pumpkin seeds
- ⅓ cup raw sunflower seeds
- ⅓ cup raw quinoa, rinsed and dried on paper towel
- ⅔ cup dried apricots
- ⅓ cup dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons Vanilla Habanero Mash
- Preheat the oven to 200°F (90°C).
- Oil your favorite cast-iron skillet and line it with parchment paper.
- Combine the almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and quinoa in a food processor. Pulse a few times, until the almonds are broken up and the mixture starts to bind together. Empty into a medium bowl.
- Process the apricots, cranberries, brown rice syrup, salt, and pepper paste in the food processor until smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl between pulses. Add to the almond mixture and mix well.
- Transfer the mixture into the prepared skillet. Press it into place to evenly cover the bottom of the skillet. There are a couple of methods for this: you can wet your fingers with water or coconut oil and press by hand, or you can cover the mixture with a sheet of parchment paper and press it with something flat, like the bottom of a measuring cup or jar.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until firm. Let cool, then cut into squares. You will have at least a few corners and trimmings left over, which are, of course, best consumed immediately to keep everything tidy.