Don't bother with water to cool down your burning tongue. The real trick is carbs. Bread, tortillas, rice, potatoes - they all do a good job. Milk isn't bad, either, but for me it doesn't go well with a lot of my favourite spicy foods. Pairing hot with cool and creamy on the same plate also offers respite for the sensitive palate.
If you don't know what kind of pepper you have, then treat it with respect. A rule of thumb is smaller is hotter, but with habaneros and Scotch bonnets, that's not quite so - they have many times the amount of capsaicin as the tiny red bird peppers. Removing the seeds and ribs, as well as roasting, reduces the bite of any hot fresh pepper.
Jalapeno Peach Fritters
These are dynamite appetizers but lay a couple on top of a green salad and call it lunch. Come to think of it, I had them for breakfast last Sunday. The fruit and fritter batter both reduce heat, but if you prefer, use one jalapeno. This recipe makes about 12 small fritters.
2 ripe peaches or nectarines
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 shallot, minced (or 1/4 cup minced onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme (or 1/4 tsp. dried)
1 cup flour
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
pinch each ground cumin and nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp. melted butter or margarine
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Peel peaches - dunking in boiling water for a few seconds allows you to rub it off but a sharp knife works. If using nectarines, you can leave the peel on. Dice finely - you want about 1 cup - and combine with jalapeno, shallot, garlic and thyme; set aside. Sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, pepper, cumin and nutmeg. Whisk together milk and eggs and whisk into dry ingredients all at once. Add butter. Stir peach mixture into batter and drop by small spoonfuls into hot oil in a frying pan. Brown, flip and brown on the other side. Serve immediately with hot sauce, chutney, honey, sour cream, or all four, on the side.
Spicy Stuffed Sweet Peppers
As a youngster, I experimented with the stuffed pepper recipe circulating among my mother's church group, but tomato soup was obviously not the right answer. This version is more grown up, delivering a respectable punch and plenty of flavour. Allow one stuffed pepper per person.
6 large sweet bell peppers (red, green, yellow or orange)
1/2 cup long-grain rice
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb. hot Italian sausages, casings removed
1/2 lb. lean ground beef
2 tsp. vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 or 4 jalapeno or serrano peppers, minced
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained (juice reserved)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (divided)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup bottled chili sauce or ketchup
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce (or to taste)
Put a big pot of water on to boil and add a spoonful of salt. Slice the tops off the peppers and pull out the seeds and ribs, reserving the tops. Trim a small slice off the bottom of each one, just to make sure they sit upright in the baking dish but without cutting right through. Parboil 2 minutes; drain thoroughly. Throw the rice into the same water and cook 12 minutes. Rinse in cold water, drain thoroughly and set aside. Fry onion with sausage and beef in oil, breaking up the meat as it cooks. Drain and discard any fat. Add garlic and peppers and cook just until you smell the garlic; cool to lukewarm. Stir in rice, drained tomatoes, half the cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Divide among peppers and place them upright in a baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheddar on top of peppers. Combine chili sauce, brown sugar, hot sauce and reserved tomato juice. Spoon over tops of peppers and all around them. Cover with lid or foil and bake at 350 F about 30 minutes, until bubbling hot. Garnish with pepper caps.
Honey-Lime Chili Wings
Buffalo wings are my least favourite pub fare because more often than not they're just heat with no flavour. These will remind your sinuses what they were built for while delivering big-time taste. There are several different Asian chili sauces available now but you can substitute just about any hot pepper sauce; just cut the quantity by about half.
24 whole chicken wings
6 cloves garlic, chopped
4-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/4 cup each honey and soy sauce
juice and rind of 2 limes
2 tbsp. each olive or vegetable oil and hot Asian-style chili sauce
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 or 4 fresh small red chili peppers, minced
lots of chopped fresh cilantro
Combine garlic, ginger, honey, soy sauce, lime juice and rind, oil, chili sauce and pepper and pour over wings. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour but up to overnight. Remove from marinade and either bake at 375 F until tender - about 30 minutes, turning two or three times during cooking - or barbecue over indirect heat about the same length of time. Bring marinade to a boil and simmer 10 minutes, uncovered, while wings are cooking. Strain and discard the solids and drizzle a small amount - it's powerful - over the wings. Sprinkle chilies and cilantro on top.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.