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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.

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Precautions:

  • 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.
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Reinventing Chili Leftovers – The Dolma Way

Whether it is food remaining from a tailgate party or from the holidays, I enjoy having leftovers. However after a day or two in the refrigerator, those meals start to look uninspiring. Recently I borrowed a technique that is used in many cuisines to freshen my chili leftovers.

I stuffed the remaining chili into bell peppers and wrapped some with cabbage leaves, which introduced both color and variety into the next few meals. Dolma is a term commonly used for stuffing and wrapping a vegetable. The vegetables used for stuffing meat, dried fruits and nuts, grains, and lentils are usually bell peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. Common wrappers are cabbage or grape or vine leaves. Whether a dolma is filled with vegetables and called a leaf dolma or one that is predominantly meat and called a meat dolma, the dish combines many spice flavors and textures.

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As my two-day old, lackluster chili looked attractive again in these vegetable vehicles, I was motivated to try out a version of more traditional eggplant dolma.

Eggplant Dolma

Eggplant – 1 large

Ground meat – 1 lb

Shallots – 2, chopped finely

Garlic – 3, minced

Bell Pepper – 1, chopped

Tomato paste – 3 tbsp

Olive Oil – 3-4 tbsp

Cumin – 1 tsp

Paprika – 2 tsp

Salt – 1 tsp

Pepper – 1 tsp

Parsley – ½ bunch, washed

 

  • Set the oven at 375°F
  • Using a sharp knife, remove the stalk and cut the eggplant in half. Chop one half of the eggplant into cubes.
  • Score the other half of the eggplant in the middle. Cut away on both sides so that you have a hollowed out boat-shaped center. Scoop out as much of the flesh as you can from the center with the knife or spoon. Chop the scooped out pieces and add them to the cubed eggplant.
  • Heat a pan with oil, and brown the boat-shaped half on either side. Remove
  • Add the shallots and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the garlic and spices and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the meat and eggplant cubes. Mix and remove from heat.
  • Stuff the meat mixture into the hollowed out eggplant.
  • Place the eggplant onto a foil-lined pan.
  • Mix the tomato paste with water so it forms a watery paste.
  • Add the extra meat mixture and the chopped peppers to the tomato mixture.
  • Spread them around the eggplant.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes until the eggplant is cooked through.
  • Garnish with parsley.

 

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