Into the Fire? Making a Spicy Meal (but Not Too Spicy)

spicy chili pepper

Spice is something that can be an acquired taste. Whether you are hosting a dinner party or trying to impress someone, a spicy meal can make or break the event. When it is too spicy, it can eradicate any taste. If you’re cooking for someone that’s not used to spicy food, it can be almost like setting fire to their taste buds! But what does it take to make a meal that has a good quality of heat, but without being too much?

Learn About Different Spices

Spice isn’t just about heat. It’s about getting an understanding of the different types of spices and where they come from to add an extra dimension to the food. If you look at something like vegan hot sauce from Malaysia, where chili peppers are the main ingredient, Malaysian food is not just about blistering heat, it balances out with other flavors, such as star anise or mixed spices to create something warming. Never think about it in terms of the heat level. Conversely, when you look at something like a Jamaican dish, there’s a lot of scotch bonnet peppers, which are some of the hottest on the planet. When you look at Mexican cuisine, there are peppers like habanero or jalapenos. Get an appreciation for the level of spices in each culture and then go in with the appropriate level.

Don’t Overload the Food

You’ve got to add small amounts of spices to the dish. When you start out, you need to try a little bit, and one of the biggest mistakes in terms of spice is adding too much too quickly. You have got to remember that spice should enhance the flavor of food, rather than covering it up. When you are looking for something spicy but nothing too powerful, think about the other ingredients that add heat. Garlic and onions can add extra flavor and if you’re looking for something spicy without the heat, limes are an excellent addition to any dish.

Gradually Turn Up the Heat

It takes a while to acclimatize yourself. Turn up the heat very slowly and build your tolerance level until you find the right heat level for you. As brave as you’re feeling, you should never jump from poblano peppers all the way to habanero. It’s always worth consulting the hot pepper heat scale just to make sure you are on track.

Balance the Heat With Something Else

Too much spice can ruin a dish, which is why you need to accommodate the spice in a subtle way. You may want to serve the spice on the side, such as in a salsa or a sauce. But if you are making a meal where you need to incorporate a good balance, such as curry, you can add something to cool the dish down. Many Mexican dishes have sour cream, which has a cooling effect. And if you are making a curry, coconut milk is a fantastic addition. And in fact, if you are trying to cater to non-meat eaters, coconut milk is great for vegans as there is no actual milk. 

Trying to get the spice just right is a fine art, and sometimes we can overdo it. If your mouth is on fire, eat starchy foods as this will help to absorb some of the capsaicin. Enjoy!

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