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The benefits of live yoghurt
23.03.2017

Step away from the “dessert yoghurt", writes Will Studd. The real unadulterated thing is much more rewarding.

All-Star Yum Cha
22.03.2017

What happens the morning after the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards? We treat the chefs to a world-beating yum cha session, as Dani Valent discovers.

Honey Fingers, Melbourne's inner-city beekeepers
22.03.2017

Single-source honey putting community and sustainability next to sweetness.

Vermouth is having a moment
21.03.2017

More and more adventurous local winemakers are embracing Vermouth's botanicals, writes Max Allen.

Exploring Indonesia's Komodo National Park
21.03.2017

Indonesia's Komodo National Park is home to staggering scenery and biodiversity. Michael Harden sets sail in a handcrafted yacht to explore its remote islands in pared-back luxury.

The new cruises on the horizon in 2017
21.03.2017

Cue the Champagne.

Seven recipes that shaped 1980s fine dining
21.03.2017

Australia saw some bold moves in the ’80s, and we’re not just talking hairstyles. Greater cultural references started peppering the menus of our restaurants, and home-grown ingredients won a new appreciation. The dining scene was coming of age and a new band of pioneers led the charge.

Where Melbourne's finest will take the World's Best Chefs
20.03.2017

Leading chefs descend on Melbourne in April for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We asked local hospitality folk who they’d abduct for the day and where they’d take them to show off their city. There may be coffee, there may be culture, but in the end it’s cocktails.

How to grow chillies

This is the time of year for vegetables that like it hot and when it comes to heat, chillies love to both give and take, says Mat Pember.

The final throes of the warm season bring out the true lovers of heat, and the chilli is a summer pro. Chillies derive their spice from capsaicinoids and the intensity is measured by Scoville heat units (SHU), but no one pays too much attention to the specific ratings. There are mild ones, hot ones, those that tingle the back of your eyeballs, and those that seem to threaten your survival and could send you to an asylum.

Chillies demand a hot, sun-drenched space, preferably up against a north-facing wall to capture extra warmth. But don't let their infatuation with heat lead you to neglect their basic needs; like any other plant they require free-draining soil and adequate watering to cope with the baking.

Enrich the soil with compost and chook-manure pellets before planting and space the seedlings 20 to 30 centimetres apart. Given the time of year, plants will need daily watering, maybe even twice daily if conditions are hot (see below). It also pays to mulch immediately after planting, so apply sugar cane, pea straw or lucerne hay to a depth of two to five centimetres to help reduce evaporation by locking in moisture. Ensure you keep the mulch away from the stem of the seedlings as they are prone to stem rot.

If your patch is exposed to the hot summer winds, strong gusts can throw the plants about and play havoc with their root systems. It's therefore worthwhile staking the plants or installing a windbreak. This could be as complicated as building a small structure or as simple as leaving the double-pram parked wind side of the plants.

Once the chillies are settled - three to four weeks after planting - thin out the seedlings to a spacing of 40 to 60 centimetres and cut back the frequency of the water, but increase the volume.

A deeper soaking of the patch will send the roots in search of these reserves and form a stronger plant. This is where drip watering systems really earn their keep - by applying water directly to the root zone and penetrating deep into the soil. And when you're on holiday, they're much more reliable than your teenagers or busy neighbours.

After a couple of months, your plants should be sprouting little flowers that develop into little bullets of spice. Those well versed in chilli production believe the hot ones shoot skyward in search of sun to intensify their heat, but don't be fooled by those that hang. The birdseye, for example, chases the sun, but according to Scoville rates only 100,000 to 250,000 SHU. The bhut jolokia, meanwhile, comes in at 1,041,427. This chilli does not point skywards.

As the first flowers appear, apply liquid potash to help promote the forming of the fruit and production of more flowers. Green chillies form quickly, but ripening may take another month or more. Earlier in the season, ripening occurs relatively quickly and then begins to slow down as the weather cools into autumn.

Pick chillies individually with sharp nails or sharp scissors. I can't tell you the number of times I've hastily gone to harvest them but dislodged an entire branch with multiple flowers hanging onto it. Sadly, these guys will never realise their potential.

In the right position a chilli plant can survive the cooler months and still hold fruit - but they'll take an eternity to ripen. Rather than let the plant suffer like this, cut it back to a bare skeleton to hibernate over winter. When warmer temperatures return, the plant will shoot new growth and away we go again.

One-minute skills: hot-day watering
February is a month for heatwaves, so how should you handle watering your plants when they're wilting and barely surviving? Well, the first thing to do is to keep a cool head. As much as it might seems like the logical thing to do, refrain from submerging your patch in a torrent of water. Instead, here are some tips on how hydrate your plants effectively.

1 When your vegetables are flagging under the duress of the mid-summer heat, they appreciate a drink but it must be administered correctly. Leaving the plant's leaf matter wet and sitting under direct sunlight is akin to giving it a drink and then setting it on fire. Water droplets can magnify under the intense light and burn the plant.

2 Make sure to keep the water stream low and directed over the root zone. This is where it's best used and where plants need water most. To avoid any catastrophes, you could wait until the sun has subsided, however, this should not change you strategy. Repeat after me: aim low and apply to the root zone.

What to plant
Cool/mountainous
Beetroot seed
Bok Choi/Pak Choi seedling
Capsicum seedling
Carrot seed
Chilli seedling
Eggplant seedling
Herbs (all) seedling
Lettuce seedling
Rocket seedling
Radish seed
Silverbeet seedling
Spinach seedling
Spring onion seedling
Strawberry seedling

Temperate
Beans seed
Beetroot seed
Bok Choi/Pak Choi seedling
Capsicum seedling
Carrot seed
Chilli seedling
Eggplant seedling
Herbs (all except coriander) seedling
Lettuce seedling
Rocket seedling
Radish seed
Silverbeet seedling
Spring onion seedling
Strawberry seedling

Sub tropical
Beans seedling
Beetroot seed
Bok Choi/Pak Choi seedling
Capsicum seedling
Chilli seedling
Cucumber seedling
Eggplant seedling
Herbs (all except coriander and dill) seedling
Lettuce seedling
Pumpkin seedling
Rocket seedling
Radish seed
Silverbeet seedling
Spring onion seedling
Squash seedling
Strawberry seedling
Sweet corn seedling
Zucchini seedling

Tropical
Beans seedling
Beetroot seed
Bok Choi/Pak Choi seedling
Capsicum seedling
Chilli seedling
Cucumber seedling
Eggplant seedling
Herbs (all except coriander and dill) seedling
Lettuce seedling
Radish seed
Rocket seedling
Silverbeet seedling
Spring onion seedling
Squash seedling
Strawberry seedling
Sweet corn seedling
Zucchini seedling

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