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 I made an inexpensive upcycled wicking planter

cheap self watering planter

The first year in our apartment, I enthusiastically planted many, many seeds, with some successes and more failures. We moved in during wintertime and I didn’t realise how far the sun would come around the building to blast our south facing patio space.

Many of my plants died from too much sun and not enough hydration. I’d planted them in pots too small or the wrong material to retain moisture at the roots. I’d come home on a 30 degree day to find my plants shrivelled and parched. A good drenching would bring them back to life (sometimes), but it’s better not to stress plants out like that – even I know that.

Self-watering planters to the rescue?

When I learned about wicking, or self watering planters, I was intrigued. Many people told me it changed their gardens. Wicking beds use a reservoir underneath to hold a tank of water that plants can suck up as needed. This keeps them hydrated on scorcher days and saves water. In spite of Sydney’s past week of heavy rain, Australia is never far from drought.

Self watering planters open up opportunities for growing in places that aren’t easy to water (verge gardens for example) or those that don’t get much rainfall. Wouldn’t it be great to have micro community gardens on the verges and untended patches in our cities?

The only issue I had with the wicking beds was cost. I found many beautiful options to buy or build that ran into the hundreds, which I was not prepared to spend. I searched high and low on the web for inexpensive DIY designs. I talked to people who’d had some experience making them.

I had a breakthrough when I mentioned my struggle to a friend who works at a childcare centre. He showed me how they’d installed beds using simple plastic tubs set into wooden frames. Sidenote: cool childcare centre! This seemed achievable and just the right size for my place. I decided when found the requisite materials secondhand, I would make a go of it. When I came across a 60L lidless plastic storage container at Salvos, I knew it was time.

Materials I used to make my self watering planter

  • 60 L plastic container $5
  • 1/2 bag blue metal gravel $4
  • 1 bag scoria $23
  • 1 bag charcoal $8
  • 1 1/2 bags compost soil $6
  • Coles reusable bag – free
  • Hessian sack – free from any coffee roaster
  • Segment from a broken hose – free
  • 1/2 old cotton sock
  • Rubber band

The materials came to a total cost of $46 + the seedlings. The cost would have been much less if I had bought the $8 scoria instead of the $23 scoria, but live and learn.

How I made my self watering planter

First I prepped the plastic container. I made a thumbnail sized hole ⅓ the way up the side, about 12cm from the base. I don’t have a drill so I spiralled the end of a pair of scissors until it bored through. This worked easily after a minute or two. The hole is to let water flow out when there is enough in the reservoir.

cheap self watering planter


cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

Next I made the reservoir. I made sure to move the box to where it would live before filling it. I used scoria (a type of porous volcanic rock), charcoal and then gravel for drainage, but you could use sand or just one of these fillers instead of three. I think a finer grade fill would be better, which is why I used charcoal to fill in some of the spaces between my coarse fill. I added the materials up to the same height as the hole in the side.

cheap self watering planter
It came with this little piece of garbage!

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

self watering planter

I should’ve done the next step before I added the rocks, but yeah, we learn as we go around here. I used a bit of a broken hose as the watering pipe and dug it into the rocks . Most tutorials suggest PVC piping. The purpose of the pipe is to deliver water directly into the reservoir, but it’s okay to water from above too, as rain would. A wide PVC pipe also shows you the water level in the bottom so you can see if you need to add more. My hose won’t help with this and truth be told might be difficult to water into. If it really becomes a problem I’ll go get a proper pipe and replace it.

cheap self watering planter

I wrapped the bottom end of the hose with a piece of an old sock to avoid it clogging with particles of charcoal, rocks or soil.

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

Then I placed a layer of material over the reservoir. The purpose of this is twofold: to keep the soil separate to the reservoir and to help wick the water from below to the soil above. I used an old reusable shopping bag that I cut to open, and then a hessian sack overtop to fill any gaps and help with the wicking action.

upcycle reusable bag

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

Finally, the fun part – plants! I added the soil and my seedlings. In this case, sugar snap peas, lettuce, lemon thyme and basil. Most tutorials advise to water through the watering pipe until water flows out of the 
outflow, but it’s been so rainy that I didn’t bother and simply gave the transplants a little drink from above. I hope some of these will grow enough that I can bring cuttings to the crop swap I’m organising in November.

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

It was a fun outdoor project for the brief moments of sun we had this weekend. It’s been a long winter without much garden time and I’m happy to be back picking dirt from under my fingernails. I’m no expert. I don’t know if this will work as hoped. Surely it’ll work better than my dried out beds of the past and help me keep my plants alive when I’m out of town for stretches at a time. I’ll let you know when I’ve had a chance to test it through the hot spells to come.

One final note for us apartment gardeners dependent on bagged soil. Redcycle will accept clean, dry soil bags cut into smaller squares, and seedling containers can be reused or recycled. Check with your local council or nursery about the best drop off point.

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.


A few things

I have so much to be grateful for these days. Here are few things that made me happy without making waste. 

I picked up these seedlings from the Randwick Eco-Living Expo. They are currently alive and well in my little container garden.

Weekend farmers market shopping, where it’s easy to shop without packaging.

zero waste shopping Bondi

My fiddle leaf fig offcut is thriving and sprouting a shiny new leaf for spring. My main plant wasn’t thriving, so I cut it back and used the cuttings to start new plants. I now have three happy little baby plants, including this one.

fiddle leaf from cutting

What’s bringing you contentment these days?