My pepper adventure continues................. Parameswaran Special Wayanad Pepper is an impressive, even glamorous designation, and rightly so since it is a “single estate” black pepper, rather like a fine wine or a superior olive oil, as well as being painstakingly hand-picked. A variety of the common piper nigrum peppercorn, it is grown on a small, family-owned plantation in Southern India, the Parameswaran Estate. Axel Steenberg, founder of the organic spice company Steenbergs of Yorkshire, describes it as “probably the best pepper in the world”, and while I am no pepper expert and prefer to use it sparingly (it makes me sneeze repeatedly!), I have been very taken with its flavour, heat and aroma.
Pepper is usually harvested from January to March while green and unripe before being converted by a stint in the sun into standard black peppercorns. As Axel Steenberg explains, “some farmers leave a small part of the crop to ripen further for their own use and Para’s Special Wayanad Pepper is from this crop”.
It has a faintly rusty hue and the flavour is difficult to pin down and describe clearly - a strong hint of tropical fruit perhaps, shades of pine, a slight woodiness, and a wonderful warmth which starts off as a whisper and then grows into a full, ripe, seasoned heat, not overly pungent, just properly palate-tingling.
Having tried it out in a variety of recipes, I have come to the conclusion that it is best used in combination with simple, pure tastes which allow its own zest and essence to shine through brightly. In the recipe below, I have paired it with the gentle sweetness of corn and a quintessential Mexican tomato salsa whose freshness offsets Para’s fruitiness and piquancy.
For the tostaditas, I have used mini tortillas from Cool Chile Company, who make them with either yellow or blue corn. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find 100% corn tortillas in supermarkets and Cool Chile’s are the real thing, made on their own premises with an authentic tortilla machine and a genuine Mexican flavour. However, if you find it easier to use ordinary store-bought corn tortillas, use a 5 cm/2 in cookie cutter to cut them to size. And feel free to substitute normal black pepper for Para’s Pepper if you prefer, but it will certainly not be the same! You could also of course just buy a bag of round tortilla chips rather than making your own but they will undoubtedly have been deep-fried and therefore have very iffy health consequences.
TOSTADITAS WITH PARA’S PEPPER AND SALSA
Makes about 20 tostaditas
For the tostaditas:-
20 bite-size tortillas - (see above)
Para’s Pepper – (see below)
Fine sea salt
For the salsa:-
1 heaped tsp Para’s Pepper
25 g/1 oz red onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 red or green chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
150 g/5 oz tomatoes, quartered, deseeded and diced
A small handful fresh coriander/cilantro, coarsely chopped
15 ml/1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
In a spice grinder, grind the peppercorns quite finely.
Line an oven tray with silicone paper and turn the oven on to 180oC/350oF/gas 4/fan oven 160oC. Lay the tortillas out on the tray and, using a pastry brush, paint them lightly with olive oil on both sides. Season them with sea salt and a good sprinkling of Para's Pepper on one side only. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until they are crisp and starting to turn golden. Set aside.
Combine about three quarters of a teaspoon of ground Para’s Pepper in a bowl with the other salsa ingredients. Taste and add more pepper if it needs a bit more sparkle.
Top each tostadita with a good spoonful of salsa and serve within half an hour.
The tostaditas will sit happily for about 30 minutes but after that the tortillas will start to become soggy.
See also Zaalouk with Mountain Pepper Recipe, Chickpea, Roasted Pepper and Egg Salad with Cubeb Pepper Recipe, Tunisian Carrot Purée with Red Long Pepper Recipe, Tenderstem Broccoli with Ginger, Chilli and Timur Pepper Recipe, Indonesian Stir-fried Prawns with Mango and Andaliman Pepper Recipe and Black Venus Rice with Pomegranate, Mango and Passion Berry Pepper Recipe