Sunday, 4 March 2012

Chillier Than Thou

Hot chillies.

OK, right away I notice that half of you are drooling in anticipation, while the other half have gone and are now hiding under their bed.

Such is the power of the chilli. An awesome little guy with amazing health benefits. Very few negative qualities - and let's get them out there right now.

If you suffer from ulcers or similar sensitive stomach issues, you need to modify your use of anything spicy, as I'm sure you well know already. But you can still benefit from chillies by the measured use of cayenne pepper. 

The rest of us have the world to explore when it comes to chillies. 

As a rule of thumb, the smaller the chilli the hotter it will be. Green chillies are also hotter than red, and miss out on some of the health benefits. Removing the seeds from a chilli will halve the heat of the dish they are used in. Always be aware that this is not a vegetable to be taken lightly. I use latex gloves when handling chillies, and if there is a lot of chopping to do, I also use protective eyeware - even specs are better than nothing. We seem to have an inbuilt desire to rub our eyes after handling chillies, and that is a very painful lesson to learn.

Now that I have scared you sufficiently, here is the good part. Chillies are amazingly good for your overall health.

  • Chillies are a thermogenic; they assist your body to burn fat by increasing your body temperature and speeding up your metabolism. 
  • The capsaicin in the entire capsicum family is a big weapon in the fight against sinusitis and the general congestion caused by hayfever and the common cold. It also contains antibacterial properties to fight persistent sinus infections.
  • A chilli contains more Vitamin C than its big cousin the orange. I don't think I need to tell you how important Vitamin C is.
  • They can help us in the fight against migraine and the like. Capsaicin is known to inhibit a key neuropeptide, Substance P, that is the key brain pain transmitter. 
  • I could go on and on - lowering blood pressure, protecting the heart, capsaicin is also a natural anti-inflammatory. Research indicates that it also aids in the battle against cancer of the prostate. 
Perhaps it is worth persevering. If you can educate your taste buds to tolerate chillies, you will be doing your body a huge favour. (It is no secret that the Eastern cultures which eat a lot of meat also eat a lot of chilli to speed the gut-transit time, and have much lower incidences of bowel cancer than we do with our  Western "grilled-meat" madness.) 

Try a little at a time. Start with adding cayenne pepper to soup, for instance. A tiny bit at a time. You WILL build up a tolerance.

So remember: the smaller the chilli, the hotter it will be; remove the seeds for even less heat; even capsicums are good, but chillies are better!

10 chopped chillies (lose the seeds if you don’t want it to be too fiery)
Salt to taste
Juice of half lemon
100ml olive oil
2 tbsp. garlic powder

Put all ingredients into a mill or blender and whizz away - this Portuguese sauce needs no introduction, and is great on any meat as well as its natural companion, charcoal chicken. Don't substitute fresh garlic for the powder - the powder thickens the sauce, and fresh garlic would overpower it.

1 large onion, chopped
2 crushed cloves garlic
1 red chilli
Oil for frying
500 g good quality beef mince (I mince my own – much better)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 fresh tomatoes, chopped roughly
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
200ml beef stock
3 tablespoons Tomato puree
1 stick Cinnamon
1 bay leaf (or 1 tsp bay powder)
400g tin kidney beans drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped chives
200ml crème fraiche
Steamed rice  to serve

·         Sweat the onion, garlic, and chilli in 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan. At the same time, brown the mince in a separate pan over moderate heat in a little oil.
·         Add the dried spices to the onion mixture and cook until they release their aroma. Then stir in the beef and mix well. Add the fresh and tinned tomatoes and leave to cook down a little for about 5 minutes.
·         Pour in the chicken or beef stock and stir in tomato puree to taste. Drop the cinnamon and bay leaf in then bring to the boil and leave to simmer.
·         Once the sauce is beginning to thicken add the kidney beans and leave to cook for another 5-10 minutes to allow the beans to soak up the flavours. Check for seasoning.
·         Mix the chives and crème fraiche together. To serve, spoon the chilli into the centre of a mound of rice, with the crème fraiche and chives in a separate bowl on the side.

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