You might be amused to know that when I first started writing a column for London’s Evening Standard in 1972 I used to be unmercifully teased about my constant references to ‘freshly milled black pepper’. Was that the precursor to the cranberries or liquid glucose of later years? No, I don’t recall anyone actually selling out, but I quite definitely had a campaign going. I said I would always refer to pepper as freshly milled and black until I saw no more of the white, musty, dusty stuff that people sprinkle on their food. I’m still campaigning strongly because, even now, unbelievably, it continues to turn up in restaurants.
Black pepper: Black peppercorns are whole immature berries that are harvested while still green and dried in the sun till they turn black. The berries contain a white inner kernel – the hottest part of the berry, which is quite fiery when used on its own – and a black outer husk, which has all the aromatic fragrance that enhances the flavour of food. Thus, if you use the whole berries you get a little bit of fire and a lot of aromatic fragrance.
Cayenne pepper: An absolute must in the kitchen. It’s hot and fiery and needs to be used with extreme caution, but it is brilliant for that little sprinkling of piquancy. It’s made from one of the hottest types of chilli, which is dried, then crushed to a powder – including the seeds. I’m forever using a pinch here and there, and I love it sprinkled on smoked fish or prawn cocktail. Although spices, once ground, do not have a long shelf life, cayenne does seem to go on longer than most, but still needs replacing fairly regularly.
Sichuan pepper: Despite its name, this is not actually from the same family as black, white and green peppercorns , but comes from a type of ash tree. It’s used in oriental cooking and is an ingredient of Chinese five-spice powder.
White pepper: Here the berries are allowed to mature before harvesting, the husks are discarded and the white kernels dried to become white peppercorns. The dried berries, stored whole, will keep their aroma for a long time, but once they have been powdered to dust in a factory, hung about on the shelf and stagnated in a pepper pot, there is no surprise that the result is a million miles from the fragrance you can keep locked up in your pepper mill.
Veggies will love this recipe – marinating mushrooms adds masses of flavour. Serve them with a sweet-spice pimenton mayonnaise for dipping.
Lentils and other pulses are invaluable if you need to eat cheaply - not only do they fill you up but they are also an important source of pure protein and less expensive than chicken or meat. This spicy veggie curry is a good example…
Vegetarians will love these chickpea cutlets - a cheap and easy meal that's quick to make once you've soaked the chickpeas and a good way of upping your intake of nutritious puses. Curry powder and cayenne pepper add plenty of spice.
Classic fishcakes are wonderfully frugal food, as they allow you to 'stretch' 1lb of fish to serve 4-6 people. And who's complaining with recipes as good as this, pepped up with the addition of capers, parsley and cayenne?
In just 20 minutes you can have this mouthwatering fish dish on the table. Serve it with steamed Juliette or Anya potatoes.