This post is the last in my monthly series on spices.
Chillies come in many shapes and sizes. How hot they are is measured on the Scoville Heat Scale. There are heaps of different chillies (they say over 300!) so I'll concentrate on the more well known ones.
It is hard to judge how hot a chilli is just by looking at it. Generally the smaller the chilli the hotter it is. The wider it is the milder it will be. The only way to really tell though is to taste it – cautiously!
From mild to searingly hot:
Poblano and Ancho – most commonly used chilli in Mexico
Chipotle – a smoked ripe Jalapeno
Bird's Eye/ Thai Chilli – small, dark red – really hot.
Scotch Bonnet and Habanero – outrageously hot – use with caution. Handle with gloves.
Chilli powder is not pure chilli – often less than 20% of it is chilli. So chilli powder is often relatively mild.
If you burn your mouth on chilli, don't rely on drinking water to make you feel better – go for an alcoholic drink or something dairy based. Or eat a small spoon of sugar.
Chillies are high in Vitamin C, are antioxidants and are claimed to be antibacterial and to help lower cholesterol.
Cooking with chillies
Chillies can go with everything that pepper would go with. You can put them with fish, vegetables, fruit, chocolate and, of course, meat. Do try chilli flavoured chocolate – it's just super!
Tabasco sauce is made from Louisiana chillies
I keep powdered, flaked, dried and fresh chillies at all times. It's always chilli time!
If you want to reduce the heat remove the seeds and any white membranes from your chillies.
Dried chillies have a deeper flavour than fresh – particularly good for curries. Soak them in hot water for a few minutes before chopping them. You can use the water they soaked in to add zing to stocks/soups.
Try blackening chillies directly over heat for an interesting twist. Just like you would with a capsicum or bell pepper.
Try adding some dried chilli flakes into pasta sauce. Soak a few dried chillies in a cup of sherry and add a few drops onto the top of soups when serving.
Put a little finely shredded dried Mexican chillies on top of ice cream.
Recipes – Bok Choy Chilli Eggs, Beef Sausages with Chilli Cherry Plum Sauce, Avocado Tomato Chilli Salad, Peppered Prawn Stir Fry, Stuffed Chicken Thighs, Savoury Watermelon Salad, Chinese Eggplant Stir Fry, Fish Curry, Red Curry Paste, Bok Choy Chilli Eggs, Roast Pork with Chilli Gravy
I drew on a number of books/sources for information. This post is a list of them.
BIBLIOGRAPHY - with thanks to Auckland Libraries
Cook's Encyclopaedia of Spices by Sallie Morris & Lesley Mackley
Discovering Vegetables, Herbs & Spices by Susanna Lyle
Spice Market by Jane Lawson
Spicery by Ian & Elizabeth Hemphill
Spices & Natural Flavourings by Jennifer Mulherin
Spices by Sophie Grigson
Spices Condiments and Seasonings by Kenneth T Farrell
Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen by Elizabeth David
The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander