Janet's Notebook
Chili Peppers Add Heat, Flavor to Cold Weather Cooking

Connie Guerrero's Spicy Beef Salad

Sometimes the perfect thing for a cold day is to get a little hot and spicy! There are all kinds of hot peppers that will add that special kick to your cooking, but I've always been a little unsure about where to use them and when... and just HOW hot is hot?

Well, it turns out that one Wilbur Scoville was out to figure out the same thing way back in 1912. He is responsible for devising the method for measuring and ranking the heat of hot peppers. The Scoville Scale, as it is called, remains the index we use today to rate the amount of capsaicin in a pepper, the element that causes us to feel that familiar burning sensation.

Now, I've come to find that there really is a pepper for every palette. I usually tend to walk on the mild side, but there are some truly delicious spicier pepper varieties that are worth looking into as well. Here's a run down on a few "heat" sources that the Test Kitchen and I have been experimenting with lately:

HABANERO - Hot, hot, hot! These little orange fellas are not for the faint of heart. They have a slightly fruity flavor, but even a very small amount can pack a memorable punch. Robert Priddy of Poteau, OK captures the wonderful habanero flavor while corralling the heat. His Habanero Oil utilizes a terrific technique that can be used with most any hot pepper. Simply slow cook olive oil and peppers along with any other spices of choice. After a few hours you'll have a spice infused oil that's yummy on meats, pastas, tortilla and... well, pretty much anything!

RED CHILI PEPPERS - In my experience when a recipe calls for red chili peppers, you have your choice of several red chili varieties. Most commonly used in our kitchen, however, is the red jalapeno. This is simply a regular jalapeno that has been allowed to ripen and mature, turning a bright red color. The heat doesn't mellow much with age, though, so don't be fooled by the pretty exterior. Scoville ranks the jalapeno towards the low end of the heat index when compared to other commonly available hot peppers, but it can still leave a mark. Try it in Guam native Connie Guerrero's Spicy Grilled Beef Salad. This wonderfully fresh dish truly captures the essence of the region. It's meant to be a side dish, but I've often serve it alone for a kicky, light lunch.

CHIPOTLE PEPPERS - This is one of those ingredients that seems to be all the rage just now. We recently tried cooking with it for the first time and are now squarely planted up high on the chipotle bandwagon! In reality, the chipotle is really just a jalapeno in disguise. The peppers simply been put through a drying and smoking process that not only drastically alters their appearance - darkening their color and causing them to shrivel - but also concentrates their kick! Scoville rating? Twice that of a regular jalapeno! The flavor is wonderful, so don't be deterred. You can easily adjust the amount used in a recipe to suit your taste. A great way to give these guys a try is Danny Keller's recipe for Grilled Chicken with A Twist. The Covington, LA resident tells us that recipe has folks waiting in line for seconds ever time he makes it. And after trying it for ourselves we can see why; the combination of smoky chipotle, garlic and Worcestershire is a savory delight indeed.

RED PEPPER FLAKES - Readily available red pepper flakes are not made of one type of chili, but from various combinations of ancho, bell, cayenne and other varieties. The dried flakes are a terrifically easy and inexpensive way to add a carefully-measured kick without drastically altering a dish's flavor. Red pepper flakes are what provide the zing in most Creole seasoning mixes and make quite an impression in Tennessee home cook Julie McLaughlin's Spicy Cajun Cabbage. This dish is so simple and even has bacon in it! Mmmmm. You may just be a cabbage fan yet!

Well, there you have it, just a few of my favorite spicy mix-ins. No matter where you fall on the Scoville Scale of life, a little spice is never out of reach. The way I see it, Mother Nature keeps us warm all Summer, so it's up to us to heat things up the rest of the year!

More Stories... Subscribe to RSS

Marjorie Silverman - Mar 3, 2011
This was very helpful and got me to thinking I need to add some spice to my cooking. I usually keep things bland because I like it that way, but my kids don't! They prefer things spicy ... even my three-year-old granddaughter likes spicy food. So tomorrow I'm going to check out the peppers at the produce section! Thanks, Janet!
Goldie Barnhart - Feb 26, 2011
Your welcome and I hope they turn out great for you.
Sharma Oyler - Feb 26, 2011
I have thought about that and also done it. Thank you for your help, just wasn't sure if there was anything different that i needed to consider.
Goldie Barnhart - Feb 26, 2011
As far as I know you use the recipe, just don't use the baking powder and salt. Self rising flour already has it in it. Wish you luck!
Sharma Oyler - Feb 26, 2011
I am looking for a recipe for chocolate chip cookies made with self rising flour instead of all purpose flour. Does anyone know of that kind of recipe?
Goldie Barnhart - Feb 25, 2011
I did the same with my hot pepper sauce, I think you get a better flavor using a mixture of peppers.
Robert Priddy - Feb 25, 2011
Here awhile back on my habanero oil. I used a mixture of different types of peppers and it came out perfect with some heat.
Goldie Barnhart - Feb 25, 2011
Try planting on opposite sides of the garden or yard. Been doing this for years never a problem.
Do you dehydrate any of your hot peppers and grind them to powder for seasonings? I do this every year and my brothers friend called mine Goldie's Death Dust. They both live in Phoenix, Az. and both love hot and spicy. My brother warned him, told him what my sister-in-law did by adding it to meat loaf and my brother didn't know and added it again. WHOA...... it was the spiciest, hottest meat loaf they ever ate.
Good stuff!
Steve Thompson - Feb 25, 2011
Be careful planting your peppers in the garden,I planted habaneros to close to green peppers and banana and they cross pollenated and everything turned out hot.
Goldie Barnhart - Feb 22, 2011
I am already planning my 2011 garden. We bought some seed last Saturday and some more today.
We picked up Habanero, Jalapeno, Serrano, Bhut Jolokia, Thai Hots. Then I have Old Big Red Longs, green-Yellow-orange and red bells. Four types of tomato seeds, Green & Yellow beans, Lima beans.
Have five types of squash. Now who do you think has Spring Fever? MEEEEEEE!! Can't wait to plant those radish and variety of lettuce. HURRY SPRING!!!!