Sunday, February 21, 2016

Pimenta Moida

Continuing with my interest in Portuguese cuisine, I noticed my Azorean cookbooks talk about a pepper paste called Pimenta Moida that is used as a condiment. You can find it at the small Portuguese shops around here but I have not seen it in the Portuguese food sections at the local supermarkets so I have never tried it. It is a fermented product and looks like a good way to preserve and use some of the peppers from the garden.

The local Azorean community used to make their year’s supply every fall, buying cases of Shepherds peppers from the produce markets and enlisting all family members to process them. I have never heard of this pepper but it is supposed to be a long, slender sweet red pepper, probably of Italian origin. Apparently it is very popular in Ontario, who knew? I have not seen this type of pepper in the stores around here, at least under that name. Checking seed catalogs, there is a “Super Shepherd” pepper which seems to be the right type: long, red, slender and of Italian origin. Another one is called “Shepherds Ramshorn”, described as originating in Spain but now commonly grown in Italy. This pepper is supposed to be very sweet, having one of the highest brix ratings. I may try growing one of these two next year, or maybe I will just grow some extra Carmen peppers.

Since it is far past pepper season here in New England and I do not have peppers from my garden, I checked out the supermarkets. What I found was mostly hothouse peppers, except for these. The peppers below are LeRouge Royale peppers. LeRouge is an elongated red pepper that was developed in Israel. It is commonly field grown in California, Florida, and Mexico. Mine came from Mexico. In addition, I picked up a few red Fresno peppers to add a little spice. Little spice? These Fresno peppers are hot! Since I can not believe that Pimenta Moida is not just a little spicy, I will make my paste spicy to taste by adding the Fresno peppers one at a time until I get a paste spicy enough for my timid tastes.

The preparation for making Pimenta Moida involves cutting the peppers into strips, removing seeds and membranes, and salting with sea salt.

The salted peppers are placed in a glass bowl. I covered them with a piece of plastic wrap and placed a plate on the wrap. The bowl was covered with a towel and set aside to ferment for a couple of weeks at room temperature.

After fermenting for two weeks, the peppers were limp and a lot of moisture was extracted from them, forming a brine in the bowl. There were a few small moldy spots I trimmed off first, then I drained the peppers and put them into a food processor. The result was a bright red paste. To spice it up, I started adding  the Fresno peppers, one half at a time. It turns out just one half pepper made it spicy enough for me. I can enjoy the intense pepper flavor of the Moida with a little added snap from the Fresno but without a lot of pain.

The three peppers only made a half pint of paste. It has a nice pepper flavor but is very salty, so it probably needs to be treated as a condiment and any additional salt in a recipe needs to be adjusted. I poured a thin layer of olive oil over the top to help preserve it and put it in the refrigerator. My first use of it was to coat some split chicken breasts. I let the breasts sit for an hour before baking them. The result was excellent. The Moida formed a nice peppery, salty crust on the breasts and added a lot of flavor to otherwise bland chicken.

I did eventually find a commercial Pimena Moida in the supermarket. Gonsalves is a New England based distributor specializing in Portuguese foods. Their Pimenta Moida was labeled “Crushed Red Peppers” and looked like any other jar of hot peppers. I was about to buy a jar until I read the ingredients. While actually sourced from the Azores, their product contained vinegar and a long list of preservatives and additives. The vinegar means it is not a fermented product and it is certainly not a “living” food, so that was disappointing and made any comparison pointless.

Pimenta Moida is a fermented living food and is another way to preserve the garden harvest in a way that is both tasty and healthy. I am reading two of David Perlmutter’s books, Grain Brain and Brain Maker. Grain Brain shows the research that gluten and carbohydrates negatively affect cognitive health. Brain Maker details how our gut biome (the trillions of organisms that live in our gut) also affect brain health. At the end of the book he has recipes for foods that will help restore the health of our gut biome, all of them fermented foods. So fermented pickles, salsas, sauerkraut, kimchi (yes, you kimchi skeptics, he considers kimchi one of the healthiest of foods!),  yogurt, kefir, pickled fish, pickled meats (e.g., corned beef), pickled eggs are all brain-healthy foods. I am really looking forward to the coming garden season and planning to try fermentation as a way to preserve more of my harvest.

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