The weather is about to turn and the warm balmy evenings are slowly disappearing. It’s this transitional season change that makes me dream of heart warming dishes, which lead me to think about chillies. Chillies are remarkable and can be included in everyones diet even if you don’t like it hot.
I first encountered chillies when I was a baby. Coming from an Indian family meant that spices were used even in our mashed up baby food, and so chillies managed to find their way in there somehow. I’m sure I didn’t like them at first, but over time I have learnt to love them and respect them for their amazing properties and subtle flavours. Yes their heat can be overpowering but not all of them blow your head off.
Chillies were discovered centuries ago, around 8000BC I’ve been told, and they were cultivated for their pretty appearance. It was soon discovered that they were packed with health boosting properties and had a fiery flavour which intrigued Christopher Columbus to bring them back to Europe. They found their way to the Americas and Asia and have never left since.
They come is all sorts of shapes and sizes and the plants can now be grown at home on sun drenched window sills. The white flowers bloom and fall off and a tiny green fruit starts to grow. It soon changes through the spectrum until they are a deep vibrant red, and even crimson red in soaring hot climates. Once picked they will spoil quickly so pop them in the freezer to last that little bit longer. They need to be eaten fresh when green but if left on the plant to ripen until red, they can be picked and dried giving you some beautiful earthy dried red chillies that will last ages. The seeds can be dried too and stored ready for planting for next season. The red ones are slightly sweeter but don’t let that fool you…they are still as hot as the green ones from the plant.
Contrary to belief that all chillies are hot, some can be mild and there are many varieties we can buy that can lend different flavours to our dishes. The capsaicin chemical within each chilli pepper determines the heat which is measured on a scoville scale. Once consumed the body releases endorphins which is why they say chillies are addictive. And that’s not the only good thing about them – they contain high quantities of vitamin C so if you are feeling a little sniffly make sure you load up on some chilli infused dishes.
Some of the world’s hottest chillies are available at your local markets, with the milder ones usually sold in the mainstream food shops. I love Caribbean scotch bonnets for their hot fruity flavour, smoke dried jalapenos known as chipotles for that delicious BBQ taste and not forgetting to mention the Indian birdseye chillies that are small crazy bites bursting with heat. There’s too many to choose from so do experiment and add different ones to your dishes and see what works best for you.
All the heat is in the membrane those tiny white seeds stick to; I call it the lifeline of the chilli. So whatever your heat tolerance may be, make sure you keep all that skin and add some background warmth to your dishes. Once you are on the chilli bandwagon, it’s hard to jump off!