Summer brings a variety of peppers, some hot, some not. Because different peppers have different levels of heat, they offer tremendous versatility in cooking.
Hot peppers, also called chile peppers, contain varying degrees of capsaicin, the chemical compound that puts the heat in the hot pepper. (Bell peppers have a recessive gene that eliminates the capsaicin, so they’re never spicy.) The smaller the pepper, the greater the heat, so start BIG to be safe! Here’s a low-down on popular peppers:
- Poblano – Mild; when dried, they’re known as Ancho chile peppers.
- Anaheim – Mild; named after Anaheim, California where it was first planted.
- Serrano – Pretty hot. Once mature, they may be green, brown, orange, yellow or red.
- Jalapeños – Mild to medium/hot, they’re popular in the US Southwest.
- Thai – Super hot! Called Bird’s Eye Peppers, these are popular in Southeast Asian cooking.
- Habanero – From the Amazon; hot, hot, hot!
- Scotch Bonnet – Akin to Habanero, so proceed with caution! Popular in African, Haitian, and Jamaican cuisine.
Be sure to follow these tips!
- Wear gloves when chopping, seeding and peeling.
- Remove seeds and inner membranes before cooking to minimize heat levels.
- Start with a little bit and work your way up! If you get too much and your mouth is on fire, don’t drink water! It spreads the heat. Soothe your burning mouth with rice, bread or dairy products.
Chile peppers can be interchangeable in some dishes. If your recipe calls for jalapeños but you want more heat, use something like a Thai chile or Serrano pepper instead. Remember, roasting brings out the flavor of many peppers.
- Eating hot chile peppers in hot weather makes you sweat and cools you down. For your next cook-out, try this Fresh Pineapple Salsa with your grilled or barbequed meat or fish to cool you off.
- Add to soups, stews and casseroles like this Roasted Tomato Soup with Poblanos, Oregano and Fresh Cheese.
- Flavor chili, meat and bean dishes. This Poblano White Chili is great. This Cowboy Chili calls for poblanos and jalapeños, and this Spicy Beef Chili calls African Birdseye pepper (similar to Thai peppers).
- If you love seafood, this Seafood Chili Blanco will warm your heart and cool your body.
- Add to stir-fries and sautés. Here’s a tip: When using really hot peppers, stir fry the whole pepper until soft; discard before serving – this flavors the dish but doesn’t add too much “heat”). Try this Sautéed Shrimp and Peppers recipe with Serranos.
- Stuff the large mild peppers like Poblanos for a wonderful meal.
- Make Classic Gazpacho or any favorite Gazpacho and add zing with chile peppers. There is also Spanish Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho and Pineapple Cucumber Gazpacho.
- Add a small amount to a favorite salad dressing.
- Stir jalapeños or other chile peppers into cheese dips, cottage cheese or ricotta cheese.
- Punch up your guacamole!
- Add to any and all favorite Mexican food dishes such as enchiladas, tacos, quesadillas, tostados and burritos.
- Mix chile peppers into sour cream and use as a topping for baked potatoes, Mexican food, African or Caribbean foods.
- Add diced chile peppers to cornbread, stuffing dishes or savory muffins. Try this Cornbread Stuffing with Poblano Peppers.
Do you eat hot chile peppers? Got a favorite recipe? Let me know.