Cooking with Chillies
Maybe you’ve come to this site because you’re vegan or vegetarian, or maybe because you either enjoy cooking with, or wish to learn how to cook with, spices!
For many people who enjoy spices, they enjoy the heat that comes with chilli – but preparing them can be a vicious experience; and knowing how to turn down the heat in chilli can also be tricky.
So here are some hints and tips about preparing chilli!
- Chillies are ranked in a heat index called the Scoville Heat Scale, which categorises types of chilli from mild to nuclear fuel strength heat! Some are just impossible to eat, no matter how seasoned you are with chilli – so if you’re not used to it, I would go no higher than Scotch Bonnet (150,000 – 350,000 heat units), which is equivalent to Habanero chillis or Jamaican hot chillies. Anything above this is likely to be intolerable.
- Wear gloves – if you wear food preparation gloves, you are less likely to get chilli oil on your fingers when you cut up chillies. Boy will you know it if you go to scratch an itch in your eye or, um…go to the toilet!
- Don’t just remove the seeds, remove the white ribs too. As I said, the heat comes from the oil produced by the chilli fruit, and this oil is made in the capsaicin glands, which are concentrated along the white ribs that the seeds grow from. This is called the placenta – and you need to cut the white bit right out to the pod wall – that is, don’t leave any behind if you’re looking to reduce heat.
- Cooking chillies releases their heat and spreads it throughout the dish. So if you have chilli haters, you’re best cooking them a separate pot – once the chilli goes in, you cannot remove it!
- Water won’t calm down chilli burn, it’ll make it worse. The burn comes from the oil in chilli, so you need something to coat and evenly distribute that oil. So go for dairy products such as milk or yoghurt. If you are vegan, you could try dairy alternatives, but this is not tested by me. Just don’t drink the goldfish bowl dry in an urgent act of desperation.
- If you have guests for dinner and you are unsure how they will react to your chilli usage, include a bowl of yoghurt prepared with chopped mint and cucumber as a cooling aid. I’ve heard chilled almond milk can work too, but I’ve not tried it.
- Dried chilli can often be hotter than fresh chilli, but many recipes call for the dried type due to the flavour and colour they give. I wouldn’t substitute – I would use less and just knock out the seeds if heat is an issue.
- The skins of chilli are very difficult to grind down. You can roast chillies first and then the skins will peel off easily. This will make grinding chilli with other wet spices much easier.
Chilli is a wonderful spice and lifts flavours fantastically in so many dishes. There’s no need to go crazy with them – but the more you cook with them, the more you will become tolerant to heat.
Which is a good and bad thing. It’s good, because you can truly enjoy a wider variety of amazing dishes. It’s bad, because you forget and scorch your friends and family when you’re trying to show off your culinary skills.
Words of caution to those new to chilli
Apart from a bonfire in your mouth, there are side effects to those new to chilli:
- Chilli can cause diarrhoea for some. It could feel like you are passing little packets of battery acid. It’s not harmful, just unpleasant.
- Chilli can cause heartburn. Some people find that chilli can irritate the lining of their stomach, giving them feelings of heartburn. It’s temporary and passes.
The best way to reduce this is to watch the amount of oil you cook with. Very oily food can make the situation worse.
Choose vegetables that are less likely to make the situation worse, such as brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, greens, mustards).
Drinking alcohol with curry is not a good idea if diarrhoea and / or acid burn is likely to be an issue.