Like their much sweeter cousins, chili peppers are loaded with health boosting antioxidants like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, and vitamins A and C. Together these nutritional heavy weights help promote heart, vision, and immune system health. But these spicy little nutritional powerhouses also contain a bonus ingredient, CAPSAICIN. In addition to putting the heat in the pepper, studies suggest that capsaicin may:
…help fight cancer both by detoxifying cancer causing compounds and promoting death of cancer cells with resulting tumor shrinkage.
…act as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent to ease nasal congestion and break up mucus in the nose and lungs.
…provide potent pain relief when used topically in ointment form.
…facilitate weight control by speeding metabolic rate, facilitating fat burning, and mildly suppressing appetite.
…improve digestive health through anti-inflammatory processes.
…help protect against heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary embolism by decreasing blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and platelet aggregation (so your blood platelets are less sticky and likely to clump together) and by helping dissolve fibrin, a clotting substance.
The great news about capsaicin…it’s simple to incorporate into your diet! Simply add a pinch of cayenne or crushed red pepper, or a teaspoon of hot sauce to your favorite recipe. Some cuisines, such as Mexican , Cuban, Thai, and Indian lend themselves well to experimentation with chili peppers. Ready to adventure into unknown territory? Try Piri-piri, an aromatic hot sauce from Portugal; harissa, a smoky tomato based chili paste from Morocco; aleppo peppers, roasty-sweet, subtley hot peppers from Syria;, shichimi togarishi, a mix of chili, seaweed, sesame and poppy seeds, and dried orange peel (YUM!) from Japan; or sambal oelek, a tangy, but fiery pepper blast from Indonesia. Each unique pepper imparts a distinct flavor to your recipes.
Just how spicy do you like it? That appears to be a matter of highly personal taste. Pepper “heat” is typically measured using Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on a scale from 15, 000,000 (pure capsaicin) down to 1000 (ancho peppers). Of the more commonly used chili peppers in American cuisine, habanero and scotch bonnet top the heat chart at 100,000-500,000SHU. By comparison, cayenne pepper weighs in at 30,000-50,000SHU, crushed red pepper at 15,000-30,000SHU, jalapeno and serrano at 5,000-15,000, and ancho chili at a measly 1,000 (and I think THOSE are hot!). For cooking purposes, you can interchange one chili type for another, but it’s best to stick to a similar heat rating unless your goal is to significantly increase or decrease the spiciness of the dish. If that is your goal, it can also be accomplished by increasing or decreasing the amount of the chili pepper you add to the recipe or by removing the seeds of the pepper before cooking with them. As with all cooking, experimentation is key to figuring out your personal best!
Remember (!) always use latex gloves when handling, seeding, or chopping chili peppers. The potent oils in these peppers can easily burn exposed cuts…and let’s not even talk about touching your eyes! And a tip learned from painful first hand experience: if a recipe calls for sautéing chilies in hot oil, beware! The smoke or steam rising from the pan is loaded with spicy chili oil…avoid leaning over the pan or lifting the lid and allowing steam to hit your face! I still wince when I remember the agony of that cooking blunder!!
The following recipes are intended to showcase some unique or interesting ways to incorporate chili peppers into your cooking, but remember: scrambled eggs are just scrambled eggs…until you add the hot sauce!Â Happy experimenting…and don’t forget your gloves!
BAKED JALAPENO POPPERS(adapted from www.foodnetwork.com )
12 fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, stems, seeds, and membranes removed
6 ounces Neufchatel cheese, softened
1 Â½ cups low fat mozzarella cheese, grated
Â½ teaspoon cumin
Â½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
8 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (store bought or Emeril’s recipe below)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Â½ cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside. In a bowl, cream together cream cheese, mozzarella, cumin, and cayenne. In small bowl, beat eggs, milk, and 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning. Combine panko and 4 teaspoons of Creole seasoning in shallow dish suitable for dipping. In a third dish, combine flour and remaining 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning. Spread 1 tablespoon cheese mixture into middle of each jalapeno half. One at a time, dredge in flour, then dip in egg mixture, then dredge in panko mix, pressing to adhere. Place coated peppers cut side up on prepared baking sheet and bake until filling is runny and crust is golden, about 30 minutes.
Emeril’s Creole Seasoning
2 Â½ tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients and store in airtight container.
PEEL AND HEAT HOT PEPPER SHRIMP (adapted from www.epicurious.com )
2 cups water
4 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, halved
3 green onions, coarsely chopped
3 large fresh thyme sprigs
3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
1 tablespoon salt
1 bay leaf
1 Â½ teaspoons whole allspice
1 pound large uncooked shrimp, unpeeled
Combine water, chiles, green onions, thyme, crushed garlic, salt, bay leaf, and allspice in heavy large saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat: cover and simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Add shrimp and bring to boil. Remove pan from heat. Let stand until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Drain, discarding liquid. Serve shrimp at room temperature.
SPICY LENTIL SOUP (adapted from www.foodnetwork.com )
2 cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 serrano chile pepper, chopped
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
1 (1 Â½ inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
Â¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
Â¼ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Â¼ cup low-fat Greek yogurt
Combine lentil and 7 cups warm water in large pot, cover and bring to boil. Add the chile pepper, tomato, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and 2 teaspoons salt. Partially cover and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in cilantro to taste. Thin soup with water if desired and adjust seasoning. Mix yogurt with 2 teaspoons water and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Ladle soup into bowls and top with a dollop of yogurt. Garnish with cilantro if desired.
GRILLED MANGO WITH JALAPENOS (adapted from www.foodnetwork.com )
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1 lime, halved
Â½ cup Mexican crema (or 1/3 cup sour cream mixed with 2 tablespoons milk)
2 jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Preheat grill to medium. Peel mangoes and cut the flesh from the pit in large, flat slices. Season the mango slices with salt, pepper, and cayenne, and drizzle with olive oil. Turn the slices over and repeat. Grill mango slices, turning once, until well marked, 2-3 minutes total. Transfer to a platter and squeeze lime juice on top. Drizzle with the crema and top with jalapeno slices and cilantro. Serves 6-8.
BLACK BEANS HABANERO (adapted from www.habanerorecipes.blogspot.com )
4 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups cubed butternut squash
1 habanero, seeded, stem removed, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Â½ cup dry sherry (NOT cooking sherry)
Â½ cup chicken broth
3 cups cooked black beans, drained
Â½ teaspoon dried thyme
Â½ teaspoon dried cumin
Â¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 cup pine nuts
Use disposable gloves to handle the habaneros! Saute leeks, garlic, squash, and habanero in oil for 5 minutes. Add sherry and chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender. Add beans, thyme, cumin, black pepper, and vinegar. Continue to simmer until beans are heated through. Stir in pine nuts and cook 1 minute longer. Makes 8 servings.
HOT PEPPER RELISH (adapted from www.epicurious.com )
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 red bell peppers, finely chopped
1 fresh serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Â½ teaspoon sugar
Heat oil in heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Cook shallots, stirring continuously, until just softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add bell peppers and chile and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until peppers are softened, about 3 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar and cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Cool relish and season with salt and pepper to taste. Relish is delicious served over vegetables such as green beans or sautéed zucchini or over fish or chicken.
2 poblano peppers, halved and seeded
1 large tomato, cored, halved, and seeded
1 small onion, quartered
3 garlic gloves, unpeeled
4 whole wheat buns, split in half
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
Â½ teaspoon dried oregano
Â½ teaspoon ground cumin
Â½ teaspoon chili powder
1 Â½ pounds ground beef sirloin (preferably grass fed or Piedmontese)
Or 1 Â½ pounds ground turkey
6 slices muenster cheese
Preheat broiler. Put the poblanos cut-side down on a foil-lined broiler pan. Add the tomatoes, onion and garlic and broil until charred, about 7-8 minutes. Cool slightly, then peel the garlic. Chop the garlic, onion and tomatoes. Toss in a bowl and season with salt to taste. Peel the poblanos and cut each in half. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the bun tops with egg white. Mix the oregano, cumin and chili powder and sprinkle on the bun tops. Bake buns on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Heat large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Shape the beef or turkey into four Â¾-inch thick patties. Make and indentation in the center of each patty. Cook the burgers until browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip then top each burger with some of the tomato mixture and cheese. Cover and cook 3-5 minutes. Serve on the spiced buns with the poblanos and the remaining tomato mixture.
PORK STEW WITH SWEET AND HOT PEPPERS (adapted from www.epicurious.com )
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 Â½ inch cubes
1 cup dry red wine
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
1 fresh hot chile pepper (jalapeno or Serrano) chopped
1 (28-ounce) can crushed plum tomatoes with juice
2 large red bell peppers, cut into large dice
Red wine vinegar (optional)
In a skillet or large sauté pan, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over high heat. Working in batches, brown the pork on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper as you turn the meat. Each batch should take 8-10 minutes. Remove meat with slotted spoon and transfer to tagine or Dutch oven. Deglaze the pan with about one-half the wine and pour juices over the meat.( If you haven’t deglazed before, it’s simple! Add the liquid, in this case wine, to the hot pan after browning all of the meat. Stir as the liquid begins to evaporate and scrape up the bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan during browning.) In a skillet or sauté pan, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and add the onion. Saute for about 10 minutes, until very soft. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, and chile pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Add the remaining wine and the tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Transfer the sauce to the tagine or Dutch oven along with the pork. Add the bell peppers, raise the heat to medium, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1 Â½ hours, until pork is meltingly tender. Adjust seasoning. Drizzle with a teaspoon or 2 of vinegar if desired. Serves 6.
JERK CHICKEN MARINADE (adapted from www.habanerorecipes,blogspot.com )
2 cups organic canola oil
2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
4 scallions, coarsely chopped
3 habanero or jalapeno peppers, stemmed
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
Â½ cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
Â¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Â¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Process all ingredient in food processor until smooth. Marinate chicken pieces for 1 hour. Shake off excess marinade and grill or broil chicken. Makes about 3 cups marinade. May be refrigerated, covered, for 1 day.
THREE CHILE DRY ROASTED TOMATILLO SALSA (adapted from www.allrecipes.com)
1 pound tomatillos, unhusked
2 serrano chile peppers
2 jalapeno chile peppers
8 pequin chile peppers
4 garlic cloves
1 small onion, peeled, left whole
Â¼ cup chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
Place the tomatillos, chiles, garlic cloves, and onion in a dry, cast iron skillet. Toast, turning occasionally over medium-high heat until the husks of the tomatillos have blackened and their skins are translucent. The goal is to soften the tomatillos by blackening their skin without allowing them to split. Remove from the pan and allow to cool slightly. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and the stems from the peppers (use those gloves!!). Place into the bowl of a food processor with the cilantro and salt to taste. Process to desired consistency. Pour the salsa into a saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes to mellow and mix the flavors. Like the flavor of the salsa but want less heat? Cut back on the number of chiles you use and/or scrape out the seeds before preparing the salsa.