Although it snowed last week, it was a hot Chanukah at Rowan University.
Rowan University President Ali Houshmand joined campus Chabad Rabbi Hersh Loschak as well as his wife Fraidy Loschak and two students Dec. 12 to make a kosher batch of Houshmand’s well-known hot sauce ahead of the first night of Chanukah.
Houshmand has been making his own hot sauces as a personal hobby for 15 years, and recently gained national attention when he announced all profits from Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot Sauce will go toward scholarships for Rowan students.
The ingredients in hot sauce are already mostly kosher, so Loschak thought, “Maybe we could do a kosher batch.”
They made the spicy condiment in Chabad’s kosher kitchen, which took about three hours from beginning to end.
First, the peppers were boiled in vinegar, and other spices were added to it. After cooking for about two hours, Houshmand adds olive oil and uses a food processor to mash the mix, then puts it back in the pot and brings it to 190 degrees. They made special kosher labels for the jars, too.
“It smelled up the whole house, which was a very strong smell and tasty,” said Loschak, who is usually not a fan of heat. “It’s a little bit different than your typical hot sauce you buy in the store. … It was very runny and very tasty.”
His late father was actually well known in Santa Barbara for his own brand of hot sauce made from home-grown jalapeños. “I feel like my father when he did it was like, ‘How hot could you get it?’ but [Houshmand’s] is actually tasty as well.”
Following the sauce-making, about 100 students attended the chilly public menorah lighting and latke-eating contest at the Chamberlain Student Center, doused in the kosher sauce.
The kosher batch sold out that evening, in total about 40 jars, which will benefit Houshmand’s scholarship program.
“It was a big hit,” Loschak said, and he hopes a kosher hot sauce will become one of Houshmand’s regular sellers, or all the sauces will gain kosher certification.
Sammi Gropen, Chabad social chair and Shabbat chair, was one of the students who helped Houshmand.
“We helped peel the garlic and put the spices in, but he was the one who did all the heavy lifting,” said the Rowan sophomore. There was a lot of waiting time too, so the group schmoozed in the kitchen.
“He didn’t really seem like a president at that time,” she said. “He just seemed like a person I was getting to know while making food.”
Houshmand makes three levels of heat, and the kosher one falls under his most mild category, Ali’s Nasty (followed by Nastylicious and Nastyvicious).
Houshmand uses a special base blend of six different peppers, including some like Thai peppers and jalapeños, a few of which he grows himself in a garden on campus.
The hottest level uses a base of habanero peppers.
With the kosher batch, he said the main difference was using the proper equipment, otherwise it’s all just vegetables, which are kosher.
“I contribute 100 percent of the sales for scholarships for these students,” he added. Even the costs of making the sauce come out of Houshmand’s own pocket.
One day, he hopes to expand this program for more national and international students as well. “I would love to see Palestinian and Jewish kids come here from Palestine, from Israel, to come here and study together, work together, eat together and really try to learn coexistence,” said Houshmand, who grew up in Iran.
So far, he’s raised close to $10,000 over a couple months. The jars sell for $10, while the hottest Nastyvicious is $15 due to the exclusivity of the peppers. It’s so popular there’s a waiting list for Nastyvicious orders, coming from as far as Japan and Taiwan.
“I believe in good education. I believe in peace. I believe in people getting along,” he said, which his fundraising efforts support. “These are good causes.”
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