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March 2010 Issue
Tweaking Heat
by Ronda L. Halpin
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It happens to the best of us. We're making a delightfully spicy dish when you realize you've gone from delightfully spicy to unbearably hot! And it's not like you can easily just pick out the heat like it's a mushroom on a pizza. So what's a cook to do? This month, I'm sharing some tried and true solutions to this very problem. Next time you make a dish a little hotter than you'd like, consider one or more of the following fixes:
  • Eat dairy products with your dish like: Sour cream, yogurt, cheese or a glass or milk.

  • If your dish is too acidic, use a pinch or more of Arm & Hammer Baking soda to neutralize the acid. Carrots offer sweetness and absorb acid. Try one in pasta sauce and see how tastes before you serve the sauce. Sugar can be used to sweeten a dish, if needed.
  • Peel 2 -3 large potatoes and mix them into your spicy saucy dish. Leave them in for 1/2 hour, then taste and if it's still too spicy, leave them in until your taste test tells you otherwise. Then remove the potatoes and serve. This solution has limited effectiveness, in my experience, but can make for some lovely spicy potatoes!

  • Make more of the dish without spice and add it to the original batch and stir! The more, the merrier ... just freeze leftovers.

  • A teaspoon at a time, stir in sugar and until the excess spice flavor has been masked, or you may stir in pieces of sweet or semi sweet chocolate to contradict and mask the spice, but you must never add so much chocolate that you can actually taste it.

  • Put a few pieces of lemon, peel and all, in your dish. This will help to neutralize some of the spiciness. Remove the lemon before you serve it.

  • Add a few cans of pinto beans and/or diced tomatoes. Just avoid any that have added seasoning.

  • Add a dollop or two of honey. You can't taste the sweetness but it knocks out the spice. It really works.

  • Penzey's Spices sells a heat free chili powder. Using this alone makes heat free chili or you could mix with the chili you already use to make a milder version. This spice site sells a variety of chili powders with all heat levels. If you love to cook, look them up!

  • If you're making a huge batch, heat in the microwave for one minute or on the stove, a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar. Once it's hot, stir in two tablespoons of table sugar and dissolve completely. Add it to the spicy dish. This mixture is called "gastrique" (gastreek), works wonder in any tomato-based sauce.

  • Serving chili or other hot foods over white rice is tasty, tones down spices, and even stretches the recipe a bit. Each person prepares his or her own portions of rice with chili topping to individual taste!

  • The only real way to do it is to add additional other ingredients -- more beans, meat, sweet peppers, tomato products, etc .... this will essentially dilute it.


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