DESPITE being one of life’s essentials, the world cannot agree on the correct spelling of chilli. I’m not talking about the south American country, as homophone experts will have realised; I’m talking about the fiery and indispensable ingredient of Vindaloo and Madras curry, Tabasco sauce, and the Mexican dish that ends with those delightful words con carne. The chilli is to a certain branch of world cuisine what the potato is to Lancashire hotpot and paprika to goulash. No chilli, no curry – so far as I’m concerned . . .
Consult the internet on the spelling of chilli and it soon becomes apparent that a virtual free-for-all exists, with chilly, chili, chilli and chile vying for prominence. You might not consider this an important subject for discussion, but I’m the man who spelt Colombian incorrectly in 72-point Century Schoolbook Bold in a splash headline on the front page of The Northern Echo and across the full five editions, so I think it’s terribly important.
You make a mistake like that only once in your life. Then you very quickly become the world’s leading authority on the spellings of Colombia and Columbia. Likewise, I don’t want to go to Chilli for my holiday and I have no wish to eat Chile in my curry.
I’m opting for the “chilli” version of the spelling because it looks and feels correct and seems to be in the majority, although Spanish speakers might take issue with this choice. Chile is the preference in North America; chili is gaining ground in reference to the Mexican dish with rice, mince and kidney beans; chilly is what Scotland is in comparison to Spain; but when it comes to red-hot peppers, chilli is the British and Indian spelling preference. So being British and an over-enthusiastic fan of Indian cuisine, I have only one option. Please don’t ask me for a decision on poppadom and papadum.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering what the word Columbian was doing in the main front-page headline of a North-East newspaper, it referred to speculation that Darlington FC was about to sign a South American football star – “Reynolds seeks deal with Columbian striker”. If Faustino Asprilla had been Canadian I might have got away with it.
This is my first vegetable-growing season in Andalucia and I’ve had mixed results, but the chilli crop has been a bumper, with five of my eight varieties of chillies and peppers yielding excellent produce. I’m sun-drying some and pickling others; but the majority are being chopped and frozen as they ripen and will be processed to make my own chilli sauce. If you’re a fan of Tabasco, here’s a worthy imitation:
2lb of chopped red chillies, 3.5 cups of vinegar, 1 tablespoon tomato purée, 3 teaspoons salt, 3 teaspoons sugar, 1 chopped onion, lemon juice. Chuck everything in a pan, bring to the boil, simmer until thoroughly cooked. Allow to cool then put through a blender. Bring back to the boil, simmer for five minutes then turn off the heat, wait fifteen minutes, then transfer into clean, airtight jars. If you get some on your fingers, DO NOT rub your eyes, even after washing your hands.
Like Tabasco sauce, which is made from chillies fermented in oak barrels, it is incredibly hot and should be used sparingly. As Colombian striker Faustino Asprilla might say, it hits the back of the net every time.