Chile peppers have become the most frequently used seasoning and condiment in the world. Capsicum, from the Greek kapto meaning “to bite “and chile from the Nahuatl word, tchili, meaning “red” are both very descriptive names for this spice. Capsicum annuum includes many common varieties of peppers such as sweet bell peppers, paprika, jalapenos, and the chiltepin are native to Central and South America and may have originated in Bolivia. Over thousands of years, chiles migrated with the help of birds, who were unable to feel the pungency of the attractive wild fruit, and natives and spread across the Americas. Chile peppers have been used by ancient civilizations since about 7500BC as medicine as well as an accent in cooking and were domesticated between 5200 & 3400BC, one of the first cultivated crops in the Americas. It took only twenty years after Columbus brought them back to Spain for chile peppers to become popular all over Europe and Asia and incorporated into local cuisines.
As hot on the eye as the tongue with their glossy, multi-colored fruit that grows against the dark green leaves, chile peppers can grow up to six feet tall. While perennial in their native environment, most chile peppers are grown as annuals. Start seed indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost as germination can be slow and irregular and don’t forget to “harden off” seedlings before transplanting out 2-3 weeks after the last frost. If buying plants, choose ones that are sturdy with deep green leaves and without blossoms. Choose a location with morning sun and a little protection in the afternoon with well-drained soil. They can be planted around the garden to provide contrast in flowerbeds, in containers with a selection of herbs for salsas or in combination with tomato plants and basil in the vegetable garden to act as a pest deterrent since so many animals and bugs dislike their foliage and fruit. Harvest as the chiles ripen and the pods become more firm and preserve by drying, freezing, canning or smoking. Try making a “ristra” or long string of chiles for storage and decoration.
Chile peppers are widely used as a spice or vegetable in cooking and even as medicine. The spice which is made from the dried chile peppers is used in well-known dishes such as chile con carne and curries as well as to season stir-fries. They can even be added to jellies and chocolate sauces, sprinkled on top of pizza, stirred into soups or ground and made into your own special chili powder with cumin, garlic and oregano. The fruit is eaten cooked or raw for its hot flavor, however removing the seeds and inner membranes is effective in reducing the heat of a pod. Just remember to be careful when handling chile peppers as they contain oils that can burn your skin and especially your eyes. Be sure to wash your hand thoroughly with soap and water after working with them. Fresh fruits may be made into hot sauces, chutneys, chile sauce and a myriad of other delectable and spice condiments. Stuffed peppers, whether they’re sweet bells or jalapenos make delicious appetizers and main courses ad can be stuffed with rice, meat, cheeses or just about anything! Roasted chile peppers can be used to add a special flavor to foods and salad dressings. Be careful however, eating foods spiced with chile peppers can become addictive due to the fact that capsaicin, the substance that gives chile peppers their heat, produces endorphins which create a natural high as well as being a powerful anti-depressant. But chiles not only spice our food, they are healthy also because they are low calorie and high fiber foods that contain beta carotene, lycopine and are high in vitamin C, A & E plus potassium and folic acid.
The fat in dairy products
is effective in diffusing the heat
of chili peppers, so reach for
a glass of milk instead of
a glass of water
Today is Herbs & Spices Day – give one of these recipes a try to kick up your day!
SPICY CHILI RUB
2Tbs cayenne pepper
2Tbs chili pepper flakes
2Tbs ground cumin
2Tbs brown sugar
1Tbs ground black pepper
1Tbs white pepper
1Tbs granulated sugar
Combine all ingredients and store in airtight container. This blend may either be sprinkled onto meat before grilling or massaged into the meat which then marinades in the spices for a couple of hours
GARLIC PEPPER JELLY
2 (16oz) jars apply jelly
2Tbs parsley flakes
1Tbs pressed garlic
1/2tsp chili pepper flakes
4tsp white vinegar
Melt apple jelly over low heat stirring often. Stir in remaining ingredients then pour into jars or freezer containers. Cool. Cover and freeze up to 6 months.
Serve over cream cheese or brie or use as a basting sauce for chicken or pork.
“And God said, "See, I have given you every herb that yields seed
which is on the face of all the earth,
and every tree whose fruit yields seed;
to you it shall be for food.”