Spice Up Your Life

Black pepper, an ingredient whose ubiquity is matched only by something so elemental as salt itself, is so much more than the one-note spice that it’s frequently written off as. Few cooks play up the unique flavor profile of pepper as a feature in and of itself, as it deserves to be celebrated, and I’d venture to guess that even fewer realize the fine nuances between peppercorn varieties. Pepper is not just pepper, and especially not if it’s Kampot pepper.

Found in colors of the peppercorn spectrum, Cambodian-grown Kampot pepper has different distinctions depending on how it’s harvested and cured, but the overall flavor profiles are similar. I only had the opportunity to sample the black pepper, but found it a fascinating departure from the standard spicy but flavorless seasoning. More floral, gentle, and subtle than the miscellaneous black powder kept in kitchens the world over, this is one unique variety worth seeking out. Immediately detecting a vague natural sweetness, it seemed perfect for brighten up desserts. Black pepper has always struck me as an ideal match for fresh fruit, so why couldn’t the same pairing work as successfully for other sweet treats?

One can never go wrong with soft, chewy sugar cookies, especially when there’s icing involved, but these are not your average childhood snack. Enlivened with Kampot pepper’s warm bite, the contrast between sweet and spicy makes it impossible to stop at just one cookie.

Of course, the savory applications are near endless, considering how easily pepper can slip into every dish of any cuisine. Seeking to really highlight this unique ingredient, starting with a straight-forward formula seemed like the best approach. Made with only five ingredients and a minimal amount of labor, it’s hard to imagine that such an addictive appetizer could really be simple. Cheese straws are an easy sell at any party, and these in particular will fly off the plate. Bold, zesty, buttery, and crisp, lemon-pepper cheese straws made with Kampot pepper are crowd-pleasing snacks that will make it difficult to save room for dinner.

Lemon-Pepper Cheese Straws

1 Sheet Frozen Puff Pastry, Thawed According to Manufacturer’s Instructions
1/2 Cup Pepper Jack-Style Vegan Cheese Shreds
Zest of 1 Lemon
1 Teaspoon Kampot Peppercorns, Coarsely Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Kosher or Coarse Sea Salt

Lightly flour a clean, flat surface and roll the sheet of puff pastry to an 1/8th of an inch in thickness. Try to keep it approximately the shape of a rectangle for smoother edges.

Sprinkle the vegan cheese, lemon zest, ground pepper, and salt evenly over the long top half. Fold the ungarnished bottom half over, gently pressing the two sides together to seal. Use a very sharp knife to cut 1/2 – 3/4 inch wide strips.

Handling one strip at a time, take one end in each hand and carefully twist them in opposite directions to form a tight spiral. Place them on a parchment paper- or silpat-lined baking sheet, pressing the ends down firmly to discourage them from uncurling. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the twists about 1 inch apart. Move the entire batch into the freezer and let rest for 30 minutes before baking.

Once the straws are nearly done chilling, begin preheating your oven to 425 degrees.

Move the frozen baking sheet immediately into the oven and bake for 13 – 16 minutes, until the straws are golden brown all over. Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely before eating.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Cheese Straws

Printable Recipe


19 thoughts on “Spice Up Your Life

  1. You are a tease with those cookies Hannah, methinks they might turn up in a future book? ;) Love the pepper. Is it anything like Sechuan or is it regular pepper given the Cambodian treatment?

    1. More like regular pepper than Szechuan- It’s definitely mild in terms of the overall pepper spectrum, but it has a much more aromatic, full-bodied flavor that’s more than just hot. I can’t say for sure, but I think that it’s similar to terroir; Something about the unique nutrients in the soil in Cambodia imparts those qualities.

  2. love the thought of those cookies!! was thinking about doing a hazelnut-pepper cookie for the holidays, perhaps i’ll have to do it just because :)

  3. I love cheese straws! I think one of the things I love most about your blog is that even when you think there are foods you couldn’t make vegan, you do it. And they look better than the original! I am definitely going to be making these soon.

  4. This was awesome to read! And has also made me aware that I’ve been living in a tiny pepper box, ha ha! I always see a bunch of varieties in bulk bins but never think too much of it. Also the cheese straws are genius!

  5. I really need to experiment more with different kinds of peppers! I’ve never come across kampot…definitely keeping an eye out for them!

  6. i love black pepper so much, it is one of my most favorite flavors. I have a super great gingerbread recipe with lots of black pepper in it, but the sugar cookies are a great idea. :)

  7. What? Black pepper in cookies? Awesome idea for a spicy and sweet sugar cookie. Oh, but then there’s lemon cheese straws! OMG! If these are the kinds of things Kampot peppercorns inspire, I must get some asap. :-)

  8. Oh yeah….I love having a little spice such as pepper in my cookies! And these Lemon-Pepper Cheese Straws are so beautiful! Can’t wait to give thema try.

  9. Lovely way to highlight an ingredient that as mentioned, often gets taken for granted. I’ve never had it with sweet stuff like cookies but it sounds like a great idea. Also those cheese straws look sooo good! I’d probably inhale that whole bundle in one fell swoop.

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