By: Kayla Butts, MS, RDN, LD Photos by: Rachel Benavides
When I watched in horrified fascination as my grandpa doused his eggs with Tabasco sauce, my curiosity at people’s obsession over spicy foods began. Fast forward to now and the hot temperatures of summer, which produce the hottest peppers of the season. Every year around this time, I wonder: Why do some crave the piquancy of ghost peppers, while others (me included) balk at a dash of chili powder?
Science offers a compelling answer. According to sociologists, the same folks who seek out rollercoasters and skydiving are often those who prefer eye-watering, sweat-inducing peppers. These thrill seekers love the endorphin rush that follows after a seedy jalapeño triggers the pain receptors on their tongue.
Further stirring of the proverbial pepper pot reveals that women are more likely to crave this culinary “kick,” while men tend to choose the five-pepper plate for attention and bragging rights.
While there is no heat-seeking gene to help overcome your piquant qualms, taking a cue from spice-loving cultures can help. In countries like India and Mexico, repeated exposure to peppery foods from an early age helps indoctrinate youngsters to enjoy the spice of life.
Kids in Mexico suck on chamoy lollipops after school, while children in India are introduced to their mom’s curry in infancy. Thus, topping your entree with a few drizzles of Red Hot can’t hurt your chances at tolerating a chili pepper challenge in the near future.
Then there are those of us who like our mucous membranes clear … Since we may not delight in runny noses or a scorching head rush during dinner, we can always save any fiery ingredients until the end of cooking or as a condiment at the serving table. It’s arguably more enjoyable to watch our daredevil dinner companions squirm and sweat, than it would be to eat a mouthful of blazing peppers.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours
2/3 cup bacon drippings
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 bell pepper, with pith, stem and seeds removed
1 medium onion, with stem and skin removed
4 garlic cloves, with stem and skin removed
2 stalks celery
4 jalapeños, with stem removed (optional)
1 lb link andouille sausage
16 oz lump crab meat
2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 quart chicken stock
2 tbsp Cajun seasoning
2 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
In a large dutch oven, heat bacon drippings over medium heat. Once liquid and beginning to shimmer, whisk in flour. Stirring frequently, continue to cook until roux turns a deep caramel color and develops a nutty fragrance, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to ensure mixture doesn’t burn.
While roux cooks, combine vegetables in a food processor or blender. Pulse/blend until minced. Add mixture to prepared roux and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add in remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Simmer on medium-low heat for 45 minutes. Serve hot over steamed white rice.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 70 minutes
1 48-oz bag chicken wings
1/4 cup cayenne pepper sauce
1/4 cup Sriracha
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Lay wings in a single layer on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Cook wings for 55-60 minutes, or until juices run clear. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Brush sauce liberally on wings and enjoy with blue cheese or ranch dressing.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Inactive prep time: 4-24 hours
Cook time: 55 minutes
2 lbs beef stew meat
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
5 dried red chili peppers
8 cloves garlic
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp coriander seeds or 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin seeds or 3/4 tsp ground cumin
2” cinnamon stick or 3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mustard seeds or 3/4 tsp ground mustard
1/4 tsp cardamom pods or 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp peppercorns or ground pepper
4 whole cloves or a large pinch of ground cloves
If using whole spices, bloom the spices in 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until fragrant but not browned. Transfer whole spices to a food processor and blend until very fine, or crush into a fine paste using a mortar and pestle. Combine spices and remaining ingredients for marinade, along with stew meat, into a large Ziploc bag. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours.
Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Once oil begins to shimmer, add onion and sweat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add marinated beef, salt, and pepper, and cook an additional 15 minutes, or until browned on all sides. Finally, add remaining ingredients and heat to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and continue to cook until meat is tender, another 30 minutes. Stir vindaloo occasionally and add additional broth, as necessary, to maintain desired sauce viscosity.