There was a small shrub of sili, from which we sometimes gathered some young shoots, for tinola or sinuwam. But not regularly, as it was still a trifling, and slow to thrive. But suddenly it was five feet tall, slender branches reaching sideways and burgeoned with dark green leaves. And bitty buds.
The buds developed, taking over every square inch of each flimsy branch. The tender young plant breathlessly flaunted its fertility, proliferating with hundreds of miniature reproductions of itself. In the mornings it came alive with mayas fighting over the young fruits, and I was agog to discover these birds had the same level of heat appetite as mine.
I was loathe to harvest the sili, for they were so small. I wanted to give them time to grow a bit more. One day I told the househelp to gather some leaves for tinola, and she proceeded to strip the plant of its fruits. I was aghast, and in a frenzy to come up with what can be done with the sili. The househelp reasoned we might as well make use of it rather than let the birds exclusively feast on them.
The fruits quickly went to rot, though, with the cold and wet days that followed. So I swiftly went to work with them, making chili-garlic oil to heat up the chilly nights. Following instructions from an office colleague, I had a bottle of hot, garlicky seasoning that went well with almost anything. Dinners were finished with sweat copiously flowing down our throats, our tongues tingling.
Now I can’t eat properly without it. It’s typically mixed with the bagoong-kalamansi or toyo-kalamansi dip for siomai, grilled and fried meats, fish and seafood. But I go beyond that. I spice up sinigang with it, and use it to enliven arroz caldo. It even goes great with misua. Even paksiw and tinola and adobo are not spared. And my husband begs for a few spoonfuls to bring to drinking bouts with buddies. So that my bottle is now in dire need of replenishment.
The downside is, I get garlic breath. I brush to the point of abrasing my gums and smoothing my tongue, but no relief. But it's nothing that a small square of dark chocolate cannot cure. All the more valid reason to indulge.
I am eyeing the sili plant closely. I fervently hope it recovers fully. And this time I will be fighting with the birds.
Chili Garlic Oil
a handful of chiles (about 20 pieces)
5 heads garlic
½ to 1 cup cooking oil
disposable hand gloves
- Peel each clove of garlic, and pound finely in a mortar.
- Wash and dry the chiles. Using gloves, slice thinly, discarding the stems.
- Put a half cup of oil in a thick-bottomed wide pan and heat over medium fire until smoke rises. Add the garlic, spreading them over the pan to a thin layer. Let cook, stirring occasionally so all bits are frying evenly.
- When the garlic is starting to color but not yet brown, scrape the sliced chiles including the seeds into the pan and mix. Stir occasionally.
- Fry until the chiles have wilted and the garlic have almost crisped up and golden brown. Add more oil if the mixture is drying up. Do not overcook, or it will taste bitter.
- Let cool in the pan, then transfer to a small glass bottle and cover tightly. Keeps well for about two weeks at room temperature, longer in the refrigerator.
- Be sure that hands and all equipment used in preparation and cooking are washed thoroughly afterwards.