Some people just aren’t a fan of spicy food. It’s one of those things that you can’t really “teach” yourself, either – either you love a punch of heat, or you never will.
Sometimes you’ll find some chillies in your Good & Fugly box, and if you’re one of those who prefer a mellow flavour, it can be difficult to know what to do with it.
But don’t throw them out! You might be surprised by just how much you can still do with chillis! In fact, if you can cut through the heat, there is so much depth to chillis that they’re a must-use fruit (yes, they’re a fruit, not a vegetable). Here’s some pointers to make the most of the little rockets of flavour:
Remove the seeds: The first step is to remove the source of the heat. The flesh of a chilli is actually not the cause of the burning sensation. It’s actually the seeds and membranes. By removing these, you can significantly reduce the spiciness, to the point that most people are able to cook with them normally, just by doing this.
Cook with dairy: You’ve probably heard the popular saying that if you accidentally eat a spicy chilli, rather than reach for the bottle of water you should instead drink a long glass of milk. There’s a reason for this. Dairy products contain a protein called casein that breaks down capsaicin, the compound that gives chillies their heat. What this means in turn is that if you add some sour cream, Greek yogurt, cheese or milk to your recipe featuring chillis, the chillis will be much milder to eat.
Add something sweet: Sweetness also works to counteract the heat. If you’re cooking, consider adding a drizzle of honey, maple syrup, or even some fruit like mango or pineapple to the dish. But how’s this for another idea: make your own chilli chocolate! Adding some fine chilli to melted chocolate is a great way to enjoy the sharp flavour of chilli, without the lingering heat sensation.
Acid does the trick too: If dairy or sweetness isn’t going to cut it, then a third option is acidic ingredients. A good squeeze of lemon juice, or a dousing of vinegar is a good way to neutralise some of the heat of the chilli.
Roast the chillis first: Roasting chillis is a handy trick. What it will do is bring the natural sweetness of the chilli to the foreground, while reducing its heat. Once roasted, you can introduce it into whatever you’re cooking for additional flavour and texture.
Learn how to make chilli-infused oils: This is not actually difficult to do! Here’s a simple, four-step guide for you:
- Sterilize the bottles: Sterilize 1 or 2 small glass bottles by washing in very hot soapy water, rinsing well then putting them 3in a 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 oven until completely dry.
- Heat the oil and chillies: Put the oil and chillies in a small pan and gently heat until you see tiny bubbles. You can use about 350ml of olive oil (not extra-virgin) and 6-8 small dried red chillies.
- Cool the mixture: Turn off the heat and leave to cool completely.
- Strain and store: Strain the oil into bottles and add in a few of the chillies, if you like. Store the oil in a cool, dark place (not the fridge) and use within a month.
The chilli adds a sharpness to the flavour, without the heat, and there is nothing as great as dipping some sourdough bread into chilli-infused oil.
Give pickling a go: Pickled chillis are another delightful treat, and if done right, can almost be heat-free. You do still need to remove the seeds and membrane from the chilli for this to work, and then soak it in alcohol, lemon juice, or lime juice first to dissolve the capsaicin. Then leave the chillis to pickle in the brine for 3-4 months in the refrigerator. This won’t completely remove the heat, but it will reduce it to almost nothing, and then you’ve got an incredible ingredient to either enjoy by itself, or find all kinds of creative uses for in cooking.
As you can see, there’s no reason to take those amazing chillis and let them go to waste and landfill. Even if you’re not a fan of spicy, hot food, there’s so much you can do with them, that you’ll wonder how you ever went without them!Photo by ABHISHEK HAJARE on Unsplash