Zero waste chilli sauce

zero waste chilli sauce

I like eating food so spicy it’s nearly hallucinogenic – who’s with me? I also like milder sauces for chilaquiles or tacos that build flavour instead of fire. There are so many hot sauces to love. I would drink green Tabasco if you let me. Ditto Franks and Sriracha. On a backpacking trip too many years ago, I have a clear memory of eating chili ketchup on my fries at a Singapore McDonald’s thinking, why hadn’t I thought of this before? 

I go through a decent amount, so I’ve gotten into making it myself. Last March I made a one litre batch using a Grown and Gathered recipe based on fermenting jalapenos, salt, sweet white wine and sultanas. I just finished using it all and trust me I’m the only one eating it in this house.

I’ve planted a few chilli seeds with high hopes I’ll grow a crop to eventually pulverize. For now, I buy my ingredients. I have the sneaking suspicion buying the raw materials is more expensive than simply buying the sauce. Oh well. As I’ve said before, there is benefit in making your own, even if it’s not always about saving money or reducing packaging. It’s upskilling, and it’s keeping me off the streets.

How I made fermented chilli sauce

The main challenge with making your own hot sauce is finding the right chilis. Generally the smaller the chillies, the hotter the burn, so when I picked up some smallish ‘red chillies’ (thanks Woolworth’s for the unhelpful labelling) I had to assume they would be fairly spicy.

How lovely is this reusable bag by the way? I swapped with someone on the Crop Swap Sydney Facebook group for some pine rosin. She’d made the bags herself.

zero waste chilli sauce

I wasn’t too concerned with how much I’d bought or how much it would make, since fermented recipes are based on simple ratios that can be adjusted. The recipe I used, from The Joy of Cooking, called for salt and a sweet white wine. I used 2% salt, which is to say 276g of peppers x 0.02 = 6g of salt. If you want to start fermenting, it’s essential to have scales. I got this one at Vinnies.

zero waste chilli sauce

I washed the chillies and cut off the long stems, leaving some of the green end on.

zero waste chilli sauce

Then I blitzed them, keeping the seeds. I could’ve removed them for a less spicy sauce. More on that later.

zero waste chilli sauce

zero waste chilli sauce

I packed the blitzed chillies into a clean wide mouth Mason jar with a 1.5 cup capacity and added some of the sweet wine to cover. The trick with all ferments is to keep the solids below the line of brine or liquid. Here I used a pickle pebble – a 2 cm thick piece of glass that fits into the mouth of the jar – plus a silicone piece called a pickle pipe.

The nipple has a slit at the top that allows gases to escape while keeping oxygen out. Yes, you can ferment without special equipment, and I did for years, but I find it extremely convenient to use these two adapters. The process is easier if I can avoid struggling to find the right little jar to jury rig inside to weight everything down. This set up also keeps out any little flies.

After four weeks on a kitchen shelf, I pureed the mixture until it resembled the texture of Sriracha. This created a cloud of pepper spray in the kitchen, be warned.

zero waste hot sauce

zero waste hot sauce

In fact I decided an old Sriracha bottle was the perfect vessel to store it.

zero waste hot sauce

And so you know how this story ends…. This sauce is hot AF, and I will probably go through it a bit slower than the last.

Happy weekend everyone.

How to make corn tortillas without plastic

Corn tortillas were originally prepared from nixtamalized corn ground in a mill to make a dough. Today it’s simpler to make tortillas with instant corn flour, known as masa harina.

I started making corn tortillas long before I’d ever heard the term zero waste. My friend Christine taught me. I made them because they tasted good and were pretty simple to make. I continue to make them because they save me buying small packets of tortillas in plastic, and they taste so good when fresh.

zero waste tortillas

A tortilla press was the first piece of kitchen equipment I bought when I moved to Sydney, which I justified by making tortillas all the time. You don’t need to buy a press if you’re just experimenting – more on that later. I found a few places to source masa harina in paper rather than plastic. A one kilogram bag runs $6 and makes at least 60 tortillas (I make them smaller, so more still) and I can whip them up whenever I want.

It took trial and error to make them completely plastic free, since the usual method is to line the tortilla press with soft plastic. I’d clean and reuse the same ziploc bag, but still. Turns out that when my dough making skills I improved, I was able to switch to using parchment (I use a compostable brand). I’ve also tried without anything lining the press, but with no luck.

Ingredients for corn tortillas

  • 1 cup masa harina (instant corn flour)
  • 1 cup very warm water
  • pinch of salt

Some add a tablespoon of fat. I find it works either way. Alternatively, follow the recipe on the masa harina package. Some may differ slightly. It’s actually best to look at the dough texture as your guide and err on the side of less water, since you can always add more if it’s too dry.

Equipment to make corn tortillas

  • Tortilla press or try a baking sheet or a plate pressed onto a chopping board, or two baking sheets. If you’ve been to Mexico or any SoCal food market, you may have seen thicker style tortillas pressed by hand.
  • Sheet of compostable parchment paper, folded.
  • Cast iron pan or griddle.
  • Tortilla warmer or a bamboo steamer and tea towel. I scored this tortilla warmer from the local Vinnies for $4, and have seem them twice more secondhand. Anything is possible!

Method to make corn tortillas

To make the dough, combine the dry ingredients, then add the very warm, nearly hot water and mix with a fork.

It’ll start crumbly, but don’t add more water, just keep working the dough.

Knead the dough in the bowl until it resembles fresh playdough, which should take about a minute. Test by making a ball the size of a golf ball and squishing it – it shouldn’t crack.

Cover and let the dough sit for at least 20 minutes in the fridge, but an hour is better. You want the flour to fully rehydrate. I think chilling the dough might help the tortilla to puff up in the pan. You don’t need plastic wrap to cover. You could use a beeswax wrap, a damp cloth, or put the dough in an enclosed container, like I did.

To cook the tortillas, make balls from the rested dough. I like smaller tortillas, so my balls are ¾ of the size of a golf ball. Place the parchment on the press so it covers both sides and put the ball between the sheets and then press.

Remove the flattened tortilla by peeling it away from the parchment. If it’s difficult to peel away from the parchment, it could be you’ve pressed it too thinly. Just gather up the dough, roll into a ball and try again.

Place the tortilla onto the hot cast iron pan or griddle plate of a barbecue for about a minute. Flip to the second side for 30 seconds, then flip back to the first side. Now, press gently down on the centre of the tortilla with your finger to encourage the tortilla to puff. The puff tells you it’s nicely cooked through, but I don’t always achieve it.

Hard to see, but it was starting to puff here..

Remove from the pan and wrap in a tea towel inside a tortilla warmer or a bamboo steamer. The steaming it gets makes it pliable and keeps your tortillas warm.


My favourite non-dairy milk

zero waste hemp milk

Before I tell you about my favourite non-dairy milk, let me clarify that I still consume some dairy milk. Not often. I use it to make yogurt or milk kefir. There is another milk drinker in the house, who drinks it everyday on his morning cereal. We are lucky to be able to refill dairy milk in glass at Harris Farms, but still don’t accomplish this 100% of the time. And sometimes we don’t notice we’re out of milk until the morning, when a trip to the store is out of the question. So this alternative milk helps in a pinch.

Adventures in nut milks

The first time I made almond milk, I couldn’t believe how delicious it tasted. I’d only tried the thin tasteless versions from a Tetrapack before then and wasn’t impressed. I’ll make almond milk now and again. It tastes great in cold brew where I find the nutty flavour pairs well with the coffee.

I’ve since learned to make soy milk, coconut milk, oat milk, macadamia nut milk, and various combinations thereof. They’re all decent to pretty good tasting options. It’s handy to be able to whip up small amounts of coconut milk from dried shreds and spare a tin from the recycling.

I also like nut milks because they help me minimize waste. I can get the whole ingredients from the bulk bins, so there’s minimal end-of-pipe packaging waste. There’s also presumably less land and water use from choosing plant rather than animal products. Usually I’m able to buy Australian grown.

Overall, my gripe about nut milks is the straining step (I already skip the soaking step). It dirties more dishes, and forces me to find uses for the pulp. Soy milk is the worst. It has to be cooked, makes a mess of the pot and creates a shocking amount of okara. Because nut milks only last a few days in the fridge, a constant supply would require small batches every few days, and a new batch of pulp each time. Too much work!

zero waste hemp milk

Which is why I really like hemp milk – a non-dairy milk made from hemp hearts. Hemp hearts have only recently been approved for human consumption in Australia. They have a mild taste and create a nice creaminess when blended with water into a milk – enough to satisfy the palate of someone raised on dairy milk. The best part though? No soaking and no straining.

How to make hemp milk

I eyeballed this recipe until I wrote this post, at which point I measured things for you.

Basic recipe for hemp milk

Use 1 heaping Tablespoon of hemp seeds per cup of water. Blitz until smooth in a high speed blender, and enjoy. No straining required. Stores in the fridge for a couple of days.

zero waste hemp milk

Vanilla hemp milk

To the basic recipe, I add 1/2 a large date per 2 cups water and a sprinkle of vanilla protein powder before blending. This goes nicely over porridge. You could substitute vanilla powder or extract for the protein powder – it’s just what I had on hand.

buckwheat porridge
My favourite buckwheat porridge topped with granola, cinnamon, banana, tahini and vanilla hemp milk.

A tip for cold milk. If you want your hemp milk chilled right out of the blender, substitute ice cubes for half of the water.

To make it creamier. Reduce the proportion of water to hemp seeds.

I’m not qualified to say whether this is better or worse for you nutritionally than dairy milk. And to be totally honest, I’m happy to set food and health politics aside and simply say that it passes my taste test and my waste test.

So hemp milk, I like it. It can be whipped up at a moment’s notice without packaging. My partner will happily drink it, there is no pulp to strain and deal with. It’s so easy to make that even my partner could make it for himself, if he wasn’t so lazy.

I was curious about the affordability, so I calculated the per litre cost. One Tablespoon per cup is 45g of hemp seeds per litre, which works out to $2.70/litre based on the current retail price of $60 AUD per kilo. It’s less than the $3/litre refills of dairy milk, and not much more than the cheaper dairy milk you’d find at the major supermarkets (I’m ignoring the $1 milk because it’s insanity). Financial costs aside, the convenience of not having to leave the house when you’re out of something is priceless.

How to wrap food in beeswax wraps: the dumpling method

When I was asked recently to share my tips for storing food in beeswax wraps, I realized there’s one I haven’t mentioned. It’s the method I use to cleanly wrap halves of avocados, lemons, tomatoes or mangos. I’m calling it the dumpling method – when it’s wrapped up, that’s just what it looks like.

I lay the wrap down in a diamond shape and place the food cut side up in the centre. I bring together the top and bottom corners and fold over twice, giving the fold a pinch. I then bring left and right corners over that first fold and pinch.

Beeswax wraps stick best to themselves, not to your food. The dumpling method avoids damaging the food. Here’s the process in pictures.

beeswax wraps

beeswax wraps

beeswax wraps

beeswax wraps

beeswax wraps