Chilies For Summer

A. and N. recently commented that one of my recipes was tongue-numbingly spicy! I hadn’t taken into account my tolerance for chilies, and had assumed giving a range, between say 1-2 chilies in a recipe, would be a sufficient warning. The fiery heat in a spicy dish comes from both the number of chilies added and the type of chili used.

Chilies are available most commonly in red and green colors – the red chili is spicier than green, while the darker green varieties are hotter than the paler ones. The Scoville scale, which measures for the pungency in both chilies and other spicy food, can only serve as a guideline. For example, Carolina Reaper is now the hottest chili pepper available pushing bhut or ghost pepper down the scale; bhut when I was growing up was the hottest chili known and those who ate it were looked on with hushed admiration. Serrano, which I use, is three-quarters way down the chart, but obviously is still too hot for A. and N.

Heat receptors on our tongue feel the chili burn, and people with more heat receptors are more sensitive. A compound found in a chili called capsaicin is responsible for the burn or chili heat. As you build up a tolerance to spicy food (by eating more because you enjoy the kick), these receptors become less responsive. Why bother suffering to build up a tolerance? Chilies have anti-oxidant properties and provide vitamin C – roughly six oranges’ worth in one chili. The other advantage of eating spicy hot food (especially prevalent during these summer months!) is that the chilies cool you down more effectively. Chili heat increases blood circulation and metabolism, which increases perspiration – releasing heat and cooling down the body naturally.

Following some basic precautions, spicing up food with chilies is adding yet another flavor enhancer to a meal.



  • The capsaicin gland is in the white pith-like tissue in the center of the chili fruit. Remove this spongy tissue along with the seeds attached to it for a milder flavor.
  • After chopping the chilies, wash your hands well with soap and water to prevent the burn irritating your skin.
  • If a recipe gives you a range, start with the smallest number of chilies in the range.

How To Tone Down A Spicy Dish:

  • Once a dish is cooked and tastes spicy hot, the dish can be saved by adding a teaspoon or two of sugar to counter the heat. Sour flavors are also known to reduce the heat. Add a little lime or lemon juice to the dish.
  • Dairy products also counter chili burn. In Indian meals, dairy products such as yogurt are added to the dish or served on the side. In Thai dishes, coconut cream serves to balance the heat. In Mexican food, sour cream is served with spicy guacamole and meat.
  • Drink buttermilk or milk with the spicy dish or eat a carbohydrate such as bread or rice to minimize the chili heat.

Stand-by Recipes

N.’s uncle pointed out that N. isn’t featured in the blog anymore!  It was a reminder to include recipes that are perfect for N. – quick unfussy meals that don’t require a stove (microwave works just fine) or exotic ingredients. If food is to be savored every day, whether it is a humble egg salad or a multi-step meat and vegetable stew, it is good to have a collection of stand-by recipes.

I use the stand-by recipes for any number of reasons: I am tired and don’t want to cook, I have to use up the eggs to make space in my fridge, I have an avocado that has ripened before I made my fancy salad, or I spot a previously frozen salmon filet on sale! Stand-by recipes have no measurements or rules; they simply exist to feed you well. My recent favorite is from my newest, oldest friend who shares her freshly made Gravlax with friends and even transports the frozen cured salmon across the country to her sons.


For a cleaned 1lb salmon filet, you will need about 3 tbsp. salt, 3 tbsp. sugar, fresh pepper, and lots of fresh dill.

  • Combine the salt, pepper and sugar, and while my friend moistens it with vodka to create a paste, you can use water.
  • Smear the fleshy side of salmon with the paste. Cover the entire salmon with dill.
  • Wrap it tightly in saran wrap. Place the salmon in a non-corrosive dish, like a Pyrex glass dish. Place weights (or soup cans) on top of the salmon.
  • Keep the salmon in the fridge for 2-3 days, turning it as often as you remember. Drain any liquid that has accumulated.
  • Remove the salmon from saran wrap and rinse off the dill and paste. It is ready to be eaten.
  • Slice it at an angle as thinly as possible.
  • Serve with toasted bagels or crackers.

Egg Salad

For about 3-4 eggs, you will need about 3 tbsp. of mayonnaise, ¼ tsp. dry yellow mustard powder, celery salt, and salt and pepper to taste.

  • Cook the eggs for 9 minutes in boiling water.
  • Remove shells and mash the eggs in a bowl.
  • Add mayonnaise, pepper, salt, mustard powder, and celery salt (or chopped celery) to the eggs. Mix gently.
  • Serve the egg on an open-faced sandwich or serve as a salad with chopped tomatoes and mixed greens.

Tuna Salad

For a 5-oz. can of tuna, you will need about 2 tbsp. mayonnaise, ¼ tsp. hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.

  • Drain the excess oil from a can of tuna.
  • Mix the tuna with 1-2 scallions (or shallots), mayonnaise, Tabasco (any hot sauce), salt, and pepper.
  • Add chopped tomatoes, and serve as a sandwich or with greens for a quick salad.

Avocado Salsa/Guacamole

For 1 avocado, you will need 1 chopped tomato, 1 chopped green chili (seeded, if preferred), and 1 tbsp. chopped red onion, fresh cilantro, and juice from ½ lemon.

  • Cut the avocado in half. Discard the pit and peel. Chop into bite-size pieces.
  • Add tomato, chili, red onion, cilantro, and lemon juice.
  • Add just enough salt to get the perfect tangy balance of salt-lemon flavor in the salsa.

Note: Overripe avocados do not make a good salsa — instead smoosh the cut side of the avocado on a slice of bread as they do in California delis. Pile on grilled or store-bought peppers and your favorite vegetables for an easy veggie sandwich.