As I mentioned in an earlier POST, I grew a few varieties of peppers this year with the intention of making some kick-ass hot sauce. However, as I was examining the bounty I decided to try my culinary hand at jalapeno jelly – without the sugar because we don’t need that in our lives.
I looked up some sugar-free recipes for jalapeno jelly and they called for a special gelatin that would set in the absence of fruit pectin and sugar. I wrote the product name in a text to my husband who was in town and asked him to pick up a couple of boxes of the stuff. That was a risk. First, I’m not sure he would know it was in the “jello” isle of the super market, and second, besides the name of the product I only knew it was “in the pink box” as described in a few recipes I had perused. As I thought might happen, Robert called from the jello and pudding section of the store. He sounded a bit frantic – only because he does like to please me and succeed in such a mission. As he read off all of the products, none of which sounded like what I needed, I instructed him to simply get some normal, plain gelatin and I would work with it.
It didn’t work.
I followed a recipe I found on line but swapped in the standard gelatin. Even after adding a second packet I could tell it wasn’t going to set up. However, I should mention that before I put in the the fridge, I spooned some of the liquid “jelly” over a piece of salmon I made for lunch. It was delicious! I knew I wanted to try and get it right.
I reread the recipes which called for the Sure-gel when using Stevia or another sugar-free option of gelatin. Suddenly, I had a forty (yes, 40) year old memory pop into my head. When I was in college, I had a good friend, Gim. She was from Malaysia. Through our friendship I learned to eat dozens of very weird foods that her loved ones sent to her in gift packages. No brownies, chocolate chip cookies, or mom’s special recipe for snicker-doodles for Gim. No. She received strange goodies like dried plums (wrinkled, sour, salty and sweet all wrapped around a pit inside – be careful!) I was also invited to take a few disks of Haw Flakes, which come stacked in a paper wrapper, any time she opened a new package. They were pliable disks made of some sort of mashed fruit – I suppose they were the Malaysian version of fruit strips. She would also share a wrapped candy that had a milky-cream flavor. It came with an edible, rice paper wrapper – very eco friendly for the times. But, the memory that popped into my head while I was attempting to solve my gelatin dilemma was agar agar. Gim would use the red algae powder to make a sweet and savory gelatin snack that contained coconut milk and canned corn, if I remember right. Once set, it was cut it up in cubes which she offered to all the students on our dormitory floor. I was one of the only girls that would try a piece of the giggly stuff.
Today, agar agar is used in vegan cooking and baking to avoid the use of standard gelatin which is an animal-based product. I looked it up at Amazon and there it was! Agar Agar Apparently, it is used to make vegan gummy bears – and you can even buy little gummy bear molds into which you pour your flavored agar agar. Who knew? Prime shipping got it to me in under 48 hours.
I’m not a recipe author, nor have I researched how to properly create a recipe. But, I’ll share how I made my first successful batch of the sugar-free pepper jelly in “recipe format” to the best of my ability. I have never done proper canning – and I didn’t want to try with this first attempt. I just made a small amount and will keep it refrigerated. It’s full of vinegar, so the the acid content should offer a few weeks of safe, refrigerated storage. No guarantees, there. Of course, if you are a canning aficionado, you can get our your mason jars and make a day of it!
At my disposal were four varieties of peppers that I had grown; the standard jalapeno, poblano, the slender hot cayenne chilies, and the forth variety that I cannot name because I lost the tag (lower right hand corner of the above photo) – it actually looks like a cross between a jalapeno and a poblano. It’s pretty hot!
What follows is my rendition of a recipe – you can swap out items to suit your palate or culinary desires.
Dice peppers – any combination of varieties you prefer. [I specifically used one red and one green jalapeno, one small pobalano, one of the unknown variety.]
To a saucepan add 2 cups of apple cider vinegar, the diced peppers, one, whole long, cayenne pepper, a 1/4 tsp of salt, get to a rolling boil, then turn it down to a simmer for about ten minutes.
Remove from heat and strain into a 2 cups (or larger) measuring cup, retaining the pepper bits.
Discard the single, whole hot chili, or retain as a garnish in the final product.
To the liquid, add enough water to bring the volume back to 2 cups (mine was down about a 1/4 cup due to evaporation.)
Add the agar agar to provide the softness of the final jelly you desire.
[The agar agar that I purchased calls 1 tsp for a soft set, 1.5 tsp for a medium set and 2 tsp for a hard set per cup of liquid. I added 1 and 3/4 tsp to two cups liquid].
Stir the agar agar power into the liquid, and put it back onto high heat until it reaches a rolling boil. Then turn down to a low boil for one minute (this is per the instructions on the agar agar I purchased – follow the directions on your package if they are different.)
Remove the pan from the heat and add powdered Stevia sweetener. Stir until dissolved.
[I started with one cup. Then, I began tasting it and added more Stevia until it was at a sweetness that I found palatable, while still leaving the acidic kick of the vinegar and balancing the heat of the peppers (my husband loves acidic foods.) It was too sour until I reached a bit over 3 cups of Stevia.] If you use an alternate sweetener or standard sugar, add until it reaches the flavor you prefer.
Add back 1/2 (more or less to taste) of the cooked, minced pepper sans the single hot chili. Bring back to a boil for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Transfer to a clean vessel and put into refrigerator until set. Here is where you could add that single, cayenne chili as a garnish.
Enjoy as a condiment with fish or meat, on a piece of sliced cheddar cheese, or how I first served it as described below.
A couple of hours after I put it in the refrigerator, it was set. It may have set sooner, I just decided to check it at that time. That statement is clear evidence that I’m not a recipe creator or writer! Don’t judge me!
I would say that it was more firm that I would prefer. So, in future I will use a bit less of the agar agar. Other than that, I thought it looked great. with the bits of pepper floating on the top, it appeared quite festive and appetizing. The question remained – how did it taste?
Dang! The first sample, which Robert and I both took directly off a spoon, seemed super hot, yet pleasantly sweet and sour! But, that’s now how you are supposed to eat pepper jelly! It’s often put on top of cream cheese on a piece of toast. So, I got out the cream cheese, but because we aren’t eating carbs, I used celery as the vehicle rather than bread. I could envision it on a piece of sliced salami (with or without the cream cheese) or a slice of cucumber. I will also use it like a chutney with fish like salmon or maybe a pork chop or a chicken dish. This was one delicious treat.