Ingredient SpotLight

It's summertime and we are seeing the hottest weather of the year in many places. So it seems a good time to give a nod to spicy food and the chile peppers that make it so. Chiles are the second most common spices in the world, following salt. One out of every four people on the planet eat chilies every day.

When spicy foods are consumed, the common reaction of the body is to sweat, particularly on the forehead. The technical term for this is gustatory perspiration. This is caused by capsaicin, a flavorless, odorless chemical concentrated in the veins of chiles and peppers. And when it comes to hotness, size matters. In general, the smaller the pepper, the hotter it will be. All the world's most potent peppers are under three inches long.

Chile peppers are good for you, too! They are cholesterol free, low in sodium and calories, rich in Vitamins A and C, and a good source of folic acid, potassium and Vitamin E. They can help you lose weight by increasing your metabolism and even make foods safer, as they are known to reduce harmful bacteria on foods. Also, dieters take note, chilies can curb your appetite, especially for fatty foods and sweets. So pile them on and enjoy! Here, to start you off, are three fun recipes for you to try.

Chipotle Chile Popovers

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c. milk
  • 2 T. melted butter
  • 1 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 3 T. chipotle chili paste
  • 1 T. toasted and ground cumin seed

Preheat the oven 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the eggs, milk and butter; beat until smooth.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, seasonings, chili and cumin and stir to combine well.

Pour the liquid ingredients in and quickly stir to combine and eliminate all of the lumps. Pour the batter into muffin tin cups, filling 3 quarters full.

Place the popovers into the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 6-8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Kung Pao Chicken

  • 1 lb. chicken breast -- boned
  • 4 T. soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 T. cold water
  • 1 1/2 T. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • 3 garlic cloves -- minced
  • 6 dried red chiles -- to taste
  • 1 T. white wine or sherry
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • Oil, for deep frying
  • 1 tsp. ginger root -- peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 c. peanuts

Cut the chicken into 1 inch cubes. Combine it with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, the cold water, 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch, and the minced garlic in a bowl. Stir evenly in one direction and let the mixture marinate for 30 minutes.

Remove the tips and seeds from the chiles, then cut them into 1-inch pieces. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, the wine, sugar, 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, the salt, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a wok that's heated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the chicken and fry for 30 seconds. Remove the chicken and drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil. Heat the oil and fry the chiles until dark. Add the gingerroot and chicken, stirring and tossing together. Add the soy-wine mixture and cook, stirring, until thickened. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with the peanuts. Serve with steamed white rice.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Australian Grilled Fish

  • 1/4 c. lime juice
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. fresh ginger root -- grated
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Black pepper
  • 4 fish steaks -- 8-10 ounces and 1-inch thick, each. Use swordfish, halibut or salmon steaks.

In a bowl, combine the lime juice, 1 tablespoon oil, ginger, cayenne pepper and enough freshly ground black pepper to suit your tastes.

Marinate the fish in the marinade for 45-60 minutes. Turn the steaks 2-3 times.

Have the grill prepared with white coals and brush the cooking grill with the remaining one tablespoon oil.

Grill the fish, brushing several times with the marinade, until cooked through and opaque in the center. Turn fish after about 4-5 minutes. Total grilling time will depend on your grill and the heat of the coals. * To broil instead, use a broiler pan brushed with oil and broil until center is opaque. Will take about 10 minutes total in broiler. Turn steaks after 5 minutes, and baste often with marinade.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes