March 1, 2017 | View PDF
I just got back from a trip to Texas after seeing friends, relatives, and seeing how the places where I use to live and hung-out have changed. My friends and relatives have grown older but they have not changed much. The places where I use to live have changed greatly. And in my opinion, the cities I visited have not changed for the better. They seem to have lost their character; they are no longer fun to be in. The roads are always under construction and the traffic is so bad that the roads are more like parking lots than thoroughfares. You cannot update your Navigation GPS in your car fast enough to keep up with the changes with the freeway interchanges. Free parking is non-existent. I joke with my friends, while we are stuck in traffic, that there are more cars at this intersection waiting for the traffic light to change than there are cars in my town. I guess that is the difference of being in a city with a million people and living in a town of one hundred and fifteen.
In addition, I noticed, the same in Alabama as in Texas, while you drive from town to town or just drive through a large city, the shopping areas all look the same; same stores, same large parking lots and the same traffic. I heard a phrase that describes this sameness. Since everything looks generic, it is called "GenAmerica". However, if you search hard enough and are persistent, you can find locally owned small eateries, sandwich shops, and specialty food stores tucked on a side road, away from the large generic stores. This is where I go eat and where I do much of my shopping. You can find other shops and stores away from GenAmerica, if you are traveling on the interstate highways. When you want to stop for food or to just stretch your legs, do not stop at the fast food and gas station littered turnoffs. There is a small town the highway went around just down the road. This is where the locals shop and eat. This is where you can find a blue plate special; a meat and sides that will fill you up and not empty your wallet. This is where you can find a bakery or some specialty store that the locals know about but has not yet been discovered. On the other hand, they like the small town atmosphere and their business has large internet sales. There are many stories about someone who started cooking for friends and have grown their passion into a large business. Some of these small establishments are producing what is trending in the culinary world.
In these small towns and in the hidden corners of large cities is where I find chipotle powder, dark ancho powder, and coffee chile. Jars of huitlacoche, (corn truffle). Sauces and infused oils made by hand and in the store. This is where I find pure Berkshire Pork Lard. If you want flaky piecrusts, flaky biscuits and traditional tamales, pure lard and butter will give you those results. The restaurants will have a slaw made from Brussels sprouts instead of cabbage. A refreshing Kale salad made with pine nuts, golden raisins, olive oil, and a little lemon juice tossed with skinny strips of kale leaves. The seating for the local restaurant is less than the capacity of the waiting area for some chain restaurants. These small stores and eatery’s is where I discovered what is happening in the world of hot peppers.
I have been growing, drying, and canning hot peppers for years. More so since I moved to Alabama. I have been eating spicy foods even longer. The first introduction to spicy food was the curry I ate while I was living in Pakistan. The first time I started using peppers in my cooking was during my chef apprenticeship at the Omni Hotel in Austin, Texas. Stephen Pyles developed the menu for the restaurant in the hotel. Chef Pyles is one of the founding fathers of Southwestern cuisine. He would combine "Southern Homestyle cooking, sophisticated Southwestern fare, Mexican food and Tex-Mex food".
Spicy hot peppers are used in all the recipes. Besides Southwestern cuisine, hot and spicy also shows up in the Deep South also. Cajun and Creole cooking is a good example. The well-known Tabasco pepper sauce is found everywhere. In addition, spicy hot fried chicken (think Nashville and Memphis) has been around for a good while. There are rubs for ribs, brisket, and chicken that have a fair amount of heat in them. I have been mixing some of my dry peppers to produce a meat rub. The trick is to have lots of flavor and not have the pepper distract from the taste of the meat.
However, peppers do not always have to be hot. There are many types of peppers and a large range of heat. At the low end of heat is the bell pepper, a staple in most kitchens. What bell peppers lack in heat, they make up in taste and nutritional value. They are colorful, crunchy, and at times can be sweet. Even though they are from the capsicum family they do not have the chemical that burns your mouth, or makes your eyes water. My favorite way to eat bell peppers is to keep them raw and crunchy, cut the pepper in strips about a half-inch wide and three inches long, and then attack my favorite dip. Even when cooked they will hold their shape well enough so you can stuff them. Of course, you can stuff them with anything, even the leftovers from yesterday dinner.
Here is a recipe for bell peppers and you can use any color you want. It has a little heat with the addition of Tabasco and cayenne, but can be omitted or increased for your taste. Try the recipe and then you can adapt it to your heat tolerance the next time.
1/2 cup uncooked rice
6 bell peppers
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork sausage
1/2 stick butter
2 onions, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 16 ounce can chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Cook rice as per instructions on package. Save until needed.
2. Remove tops and remove seeds and white pith from inside the peppers. Place peppers in boiling water for 6 to 8 minutes or until soft.
3. Brown the meats in large pan with butter. Drain all but 2 tablespoon of liquid and add onions. Sauté for 4 minute to soften the white onions.
4. Add basil, Tabasco, garlic salt and chili powder. Stir well.
5. Divide mixture among the peppers. Place in a walled pan that is sized to keep the peppers from falling over, but not cramped.
6. Add water to just cover the bottom of pan.
7. Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
This is the bottom of the heat scale for peppers. You can find peppers that have more heat and try them to find your heat tolerance. Pimiento peppers are actually hotter than bells. In addition, pepperoncinis are hotter still, but are commonly eaten on pizzas and in salads. Than you can try a favorite in Tex-Mex restaurants, a stuffed Poblanos, called Chile Rellenos. Some restaurants will use Anaheim peppers instead and you have already up to 2,500 Scoville units in heat. If you have eaten a dish with chipotle or jalapeno peppers, you have jumped up to 10,000 Scoville units. This is the limit for most people. If you can eat peppers past the Scoville rating of Serrano pepper (23,00) and you use Tabasco sauce(30,000 to 50,000) regularly, your taste buds are stronger than most. If you prefer your food hot and spicy, you can call yourself a Pepperhead.
If you want to have a spicy snack that is healthy and easy to make, try this hummus recipe. It can be a test bed for your tolerance to hot peppers.
DARE DEVIL HUMMUS
1 15-ounce can Garbanzo beans (Chick Peas)
2 small cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
One or more teaspoons hot sauce to your taste
1. Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and puree until creamy.
2. Put in a seal-able bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour.
3. Serve cold, with your favorite chips, crackers, or bell pepper slices.
NOTES: For your first time making this, start with a small amount of hot sauce. Stir in more as needed and taste for heat.
To slide in the fact that March is National Sauce Month, I found a recipe that is a terrific cold weather dish and can be adapted easily for someone that likes their food on the spicy side. The dish is a ragout and takes less than an hour to prepare.
COUNTRY SAUSAGE RAGOUT with MUSTARD
10 large shallots, trimmed and peeled
10 whole peeled cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1/4 cup bacon drippings
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons each dried thyme and rosemary
1 cup white wine
8 small new potatoes, halved
1 large bunch small carrots, trimmed and peeled
2 cups beef stock
3/4 pound smoked sausage, (spicy smoked Conecuh works well) cut into one inch pieces
3/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup chopped parsley for garnish
1. In a shallow pot, cook shallots, garlic and mustard seeds in bacon drippings over moderate heat for ten minutes, stir occasionally.
2. Add herbs, wine, and bring to a boil over high heat.
3. Cook for five minutes or until liquid is almost evaporated. Add the potatoes, carrots and stock and return to a boil. Then reduce heat to moderate and cook until veggies are almost tender (maybe 10 to 15 minutes).
4. Add sausage and mustard and cook 5 to 7 minutes or until sauce has thicken.
5. Serve and garnish with parsley. Dish goes well with a bitter greens salad.
I have mentioned Scoville units earlier. This is a measurement of the heat in peppers. The Scoville Scale is not a precise measurement because it is dependent on the capsaicin sensitivity of the testers. The tasters’ palate, sensory fatigue and the number of heat receptors make the test imprecise. Even with that, you can get a general idea that a Carolina Reaper with a Scoville rating of 2.2 million will be something you eat only if you are making a YOUTUBE video to show how crazy you are.
Philosophers have often looked for the defining features of humans--language, rationality, culture, and so on. I would stick with this: “Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.” Paul Bloom.
Remember, you can't expect to look like a million bucks if you eat from the dollar menu...Unknown