What's in that jar right there is what's going to make you famous - garlicky, kicky, chili hot sauce. And it's killer. It's as hot as blazes but with a punchy brightness, deeply flavoured without the mask of vinegar burn.

I'll get to it, I promise. I might wander on the way however, as I have been thinking.

I've been thinking it has been a long time since I've been to India. Long enough that it deserves to be written in italics, and far longer than I would like it to have been.

I have been thinking about the visits from my younger years, to the homes of family that still live in the country where my parents were born. In the height of our July I thought of the heat of Delhi in the heart of summer, a heat that feels a presence in the room, unseen though felt. It collects itself around your shoulders like a cat might curl around your feet, holding you still and motionless. In that heat, you gulp the air in breathless mouthfuls.

The smell of mosquito coils slowly burning on our back deck takes me to a veranda in Chennai. It's a scent I grew up with, that scent that twists its way through the night upon serpentine trails of smoke.  

And as much as I am there in those memories, the reality is that I am not surrounded by bougainvillea and jasmine blossoms but instead trees whose green leaves are beginning to smolder at their tips, surely soon afire. The forest will glow yellow and orange and burn red in echoes of summer's departed sun. 

The heat I'm remembering has moved from outdoors to in. To firesides, stoves, and in this case, glass jars shining crimson-bright and beckoning.

See? I told you I'd get back to the chili sauce. Never fear, dear friend. There's method to my meanderings.

The Garlicky Red Chili Hot Sauce is from Melissa Clark via the New York Times. You might want to get out your best stationery and start writing her a thank you card right now. Full of body, with heat and dimensions of character - sweet, fresh, acidic and twangy. It's all there. There's show and then there's a payoff. It's not just flash, zing, wallop you with ash and cinders. 

rims

All you do, all it takes, is hot red chilies, sweet peppers, garlic, vinegar and salt. All into one pot, simmered gently for a few minutes, then whirled into a purée in a blender. The precious stuff, which I recommend treating with the care one might use in handling molten lava at this volatile point, is decanted into jars and left alone for three days. That's the hard part. The waiting. In that time the vinegar softens, rounding out, and the flavour of the peppers comes forward. Sweet meets heat in a way that quickens the blood and warms you right through.

One scant drop on a spoon, and it's suddenly the hottest day of summer. Wherever you may be.

GARLICY RED CHILE HOT SAUCE

From Melissa Clark and The New York Times.

Recipe

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This dish is similar to peperonata, shares ingredients with caponata, but is more of a relish. It could be used sparingly as a condiment or generously as a main ingredient.

With all of that variation, it is hard to reason why I am having such trouble finding the words to appropriately introduce this bowl of piquant peppers and eggplant. I feel a bit sheepish, as the inadequacy falls squarely on my shoulders; the relish is rather tasty and possesses a multitude of positive attributes. Cut into thin lengths and roasted, the vegetables delicately slip across the palate, sweet and unctuous. Vinegar-steeped then soothed with olive oil, they have an acidity that sets the mouth to water.

I will say, despite the lack of fanfare and my difficulty with uncharacteristic taciturnity, this relish has been extraordinarily easy to enjoy. Three jars have resided in our fridge in as many weeks, with the ingredients for a subsequent batch always waiting at the ready. Maybe that record is endorsement enough.

ROASTED EGGPLANT AND PEPPER RELISH

The generous quantity of vinaigrette thoroughly bathes the cooked vegetables and results in a particularly-succulent result. These juices will cloud slightly when refrigerated, due to the olive oil, but will clear once brought to room temperature. Can be served as a sandwich spread (above), an antipasti, or as an accompaniment to grilled and roasted meats and poultry.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 red bell peppers, seeded, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4" batons
  • 1 large onion, halved lengthwise and then sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar, see note
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
  • sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). On a standard rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan, toss together the peppers and eggplant. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast, for 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Add 3/4 of the onion (reserve the rest) and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft but without much colour, about 25-30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, make the vinaigrette; combine the vinegar, capers, garlic and basil. Slowly whisk in the 1/2 cup of olive oil, until thick and emulsified. Mix in the reserved onion and the red pepper flakes (if using), season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

When finished roasting, tumble the hot vegetables into the vinaigrette, tossing well to combine. Make sure to scrape any caramelized bits off of the pan and any accumulated juices. Allow the vegetables to marinate for 20 minutes at the least, serving the relish warm. My preference is to cool the mixture, then refrigerate in a sealed container overnight. It can then be served at room temperature or warmed gently.

Makes about 2 cups.

Notes:

• The reserved raw onion will slightly pickle in the vinaigrette. You can skip this step, but I like how they turn into translucent ribbons of concentrated acidity.

• For those who might find good quality balsamic vinegar overly intense, you could substitute 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar for the same quantity of balsamic.

It has only been in the last few years that my father started to foray into the kitchen (save for our childhood favourite of his French toast fingers). But since then, he has taken on the majority of culinary duties, exploring and expanding his repertoire of specialities to include his Thanksgiving turkey roulade, his mahogany-hued beef and broccoli stir fry, and his fabulously decadent caramel custard. But none of these can come close in fame to his true calling card; Indian food.

The French may have their mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot), and Creole cuisine may boast its trinity (onion, celery, green pepper), but in my father's pan there is but one triumvirate - onion, ginger and garlic.

In fact, it is the frequent refrain when I call to ask him for recipes; "start with onion, ginger, garlic ...." As soon as the three hit the heat the scent immediately brings me back to thoughts of my parents home. Slowly cooking on the stove, this fragrant tangle forms the basis of much of the Indian menu; the backbone flavour of many dishes, both meat based and vegetarian.

This succulent spread of sweet blackened eggplant and barely-caramelized onions is lifted by handfuls of grassy cilantro and spiky rings of green chili. Simple to make yet boundlessly versatile, it can be served as a vegetable offering in an Indian meal, combined with spiced ground meat (keema) for something more substantial, mixed with thick yogurt and topped with ground toasted cumin for a dip, or simply spread on griddled flatbread for a quick snack.

My father's eggplant spread
His own recipe

Ingredients
Canola oil or other neutral oil
1 medium eggplant (aubergine)
1 large onion, cut lengthways then into thin half moons
2 teaspoons ginger, grated (see note)
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 small green chili, sliced finely
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
salt to taste

Use a few drops of canola oil to lightly grease the skin of the eggplant. Over the dying coals of a charcoal fire, place the whole eggplant on the grill. Cook, turning occasionally, until the eggplant has shrivelled and blackened. The flesh should yield easily to pressure, and most of its moisture will have cooked away. Do not panic if the skin splits while cooking, this is perfectly fine. Remove from the heat and set the eggplant aside to cool.

In a medium saucepan, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for about 10-15 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the garlic is sweet. Add the green chili and cilantro, cooking for 5 minutes more.

Using a spoon or your fingers, peel away the skin from the eggplant. Scoop the flesh into the pan with the aromatics, breaking it up and stirring to combine. Season lightly with salt. Increase the heat to medium and cook the eggplant for 10 more minutes, or until it begins to slightly darken in colour and any residual moisture has dissipated. Check for seasoning and serve.

Makes about 1 cup.

Notes:
• My parents store their ginger in the freezer; it keeps forever it seems and can be easily grated while frozen. The measurement in this recipe is using frozen ginger, and may vary if using fresh.
• Carefully remove the seeds and ribs (white pithy veins) from the green chili for those prefer less heat.

By all accounts I enjoy a good chat. It has always been that way; in fact, I do believe that somewhere I have an old progress report bearing the following glowing review: “Tara is a chatterbox. Sometimes distracts others.”

A distraction indeed; between instant messaging, e-mail and the telephone, rarely does a day go by without a good gab with a friend or family member.

Whatever the topic - sensational shoes, starlet shenanigans or all things sparkly - these chats are our chance to not only catch up, but also forget about the distance that is sometimes between us. Time differences and schedule conflicts fall away and all we are left with is common ground and usually a good laugh.

It was such a discussion that inspired our Sunday night this week. Across an ocean and over e-mail, a dear friend and I were considering an all- too-important issue; what to feed our grumbling bellies. Lucky for me, the hours separating us worked to my advantage - while I was still searching for supper ideas, Michèle’s was already tucked in the oven. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I decided I would follow her lead and recreate her menu on this side of the Atlantic.

To serve alongside our matching roasts Michèle had found a truly delicious-sounding recipe for roasted red onions over at Epicurious.com. She assured me that hers smelled fantastic roasting away. However, as I was already eager to use the pretty little yellow onions my father had given me, I suggested the substitution.

Looking ahead to the inevitable roast beef sandwich lunches, I wanted a final dish closer to a marmalade relish than a simple vegetable side, so I asked her opinion of adding some honey and swapping out the vinegar. The consultation continued; the minutiae of our preparations were covered from roast beef internal temperatures to ovens, from green beans to brussels sprouts and the questionable need for potatoes.

In the end, after countless messages back and forth, my family and I sat down to a meal that I did not feel I had prepared alone. I had made it with a friend.

And what was one of my first thoughts this morning? Talking to that friend to compare notes.

Oh Mrs. Kline, if only you knew - I have not improved in the least in all these years since Kindergarten. Thank goodness for that.

Jammy roasted onions
My own creation, of sorts. Inspired by Epicurious, adapted from collaborative conversations with Michèle. Makes a wonderful accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats and poultry; with the velvety sweetness of the onions offset by the resonant twang of balsamic.

Shown above in a sandwich of toasted ciabatta, rare roast beef, field greens and a homemade horseradish aïoli similar to Ina Garten’s horseradish sauce.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 spring fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon honey
About 1 1/2 pounds (700 g) small onions
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 450ºF (230ºC).

In a small saucepan, combine butter, olive oil and herbs. Warm slowly over low heat. Once the butter has completely melted and the herbs are fragrant, remove from the heat and stir in honey. Allow to cool.

Trim the roots of the onions, but leave intact; peel and slice into quarters lengthways.

In a roasting dish, toss the onions, garlic and herb oil mixture. Once well coated, drizzle over balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and toss again.

Cover with aluminum foil and roast in the middle position of the preheated oven. Every 20 minutes, peel back foil and turn onions with a broad spatula. After one hour, reduce oven temperature to 300ºF (150ºC). Roast for an additional 30-45 minutes, until done to your liking.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Will keep for about a week, refrigerated in a sealed container.

Notes:
• Shallots or cipollini onions can also be used; in this case, cut in half or leave whole.
• Use a roasting pan that just fits the onions and garlic in a single layer; too big of a pan and the balsamic and honey will burn, too small of a pan and the vegetables will steam rather than roast.
• For a sweeter, darker version, substitute an equal amount of dark brown sugar for the honey.
• For fans of strong flavours, these onions can be used to top crostini. Add Cambozola and broil for an over-the-top snack.

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