Hey, Hot Stuff! This “Take 5” is all about the five spicy foods I can’t live without. Boy, it wasn’t easy to list just five, so just take this list as a sampler of the first few things that came to mind. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Tabasco sauce
Everybody’s favorite, it’s the mother of all hot sauces – what list of spicy foods would be complete without old school Tabasco sauce? Produced by the McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana since 1868, Tabasco sauce is made from the tabasco pepper and aged in oak barrels for three long years before it’s ready for your scrambled eggs or Bloody Mary. You’ve seen that familiar little bottle your whole life on every other restaurant table, but did you know that Tabasco sauce is now available in a PERSONALIZED GALLON JUG ($44.95) at the online Tabasco country store?
A GALLON of tabasco sauce?? Come on, can you imagine a cooler gift for the chile-head in your life? I for one would be just THRILLED to find a big ‘ol jug of the Chipotle flavor under my Christmas tree this year (hint!). The chipotle variety Tabasco sauce is smoky and complex, and just perfect in Texas chili or atop huevos rancheros. In addition to the Chipotle and Traditional varieties, Tabasco is now available in even more exciting flavors: Asian Sweet and Spicy, Habanero, Green, and Garlic.
While your taste buds are all atwitter, why not click here to print a 50-cent coupon for Tabasco sauce:
2. Fresh Poblano Peppers
Lately, I’m very excited to see that poblano peppers are becoming a staple in more and more grocery stores and farmers markets all over the place. With their gorgeous, dark emerald skin and moderately spicy flesh, they deserve a place in your kitchen. Poblanos have a mild heat, with a rating of 1,000 – 2,000 on the Scoville Heat Index (as compared to a jalapeño’s 3,5000 – 8,000). They are great on the grill, and I use them in place of green bell peppers on meat skewers or to accompany a London broil. Once you get a sense of their flavor, you’ll love experimenting with them. Try poblanos in this simple, ultra-creamy and spicy soup recipe, one of SpiceBoy’s favorites. As the recipe’s originator says, you can use up to three poblanos in this soup – use one for a “slight kick,” three for a “rowdy taste.”
Creamy Roasted Poblano Soup
Serves 4 – 6
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, cut into chunks
Up to 3 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (Fage brand yogurt works well)
Salt and pepper
Over medium heat, cook onion in the butter in a saucepan until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and cream cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted; do not let the soup boil. Cool slightly and add the roasted poblanos; puree the mixture (I use a hand-blender). Add the sour cream or yogurt and heat through but do not boil. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with a lime wedge, pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds), and grated manchego cheese.
(From The Best American Recipes 2004 – 2005, adapted slightly by SpiceBoy)
Ok, something this bright orange and viscous can’t possibly be good for you, but look at it this way – you’re not drinking the stuff. (At least I hope you’re not!) In a 10.1-ounce bottle for only $1.25, this super sweet and spicy chili sauce is one of the deals of the century, and I find it to be superior to the sauce you get in restaurants. With tiny flakes of red chile pepper suspended in the sweet, vibrant-orange sauce, it packs a real punch of heat – and it’s really fun to look at, too. This chili sauce is fantastic with dumplings, and a tiny dollop is really nice on a cracker with some goat cheese, too!
4. Maesri Curry Paste
In convenient 4-ounce cans, these indispensable curry pastes will have you whipping up dishes that trump your favorite take-out place in no time at all. Available in over ten varieties, I’ve tried a the basics over and over: red (my favorite), green, yellow, panang, and masaman. Touting themselves and “The True Taste of Thailand,” all I can say is these spicy and savory curry pastes impress me as pretty darn authentic. Here’s my recipe for a super-simple red curry that you can have on the table in a flash with just a few ingredients – even leftovers. I use leftover chicken and whatever fresh and frozen vegetables I happen to have on hand:
SpiceBoy’s Easy Red Curry with Chicken
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and cubed
2 cups cooked basmati or jasmine rice
2 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 – 2 Tbsp Maesri red curry paste (depending on desired heat)
1 14-ounce can coconut Milk
2 Tbsp brown Sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Kaffir lime leaf (optional)
3 cups assorted fresh and/or frozen vegetables (I like frozen peas and green beans, fresh red bell pepper, spinach, carrot and/or zucchini)
Fresh cilantro or basil leaves, for serving (optional)
Heat the oil in a wok and stir fry the onion and fresh vegetables until slightly cooked. Add the garlic and stir-fry for a minute. Stir in the curry paste and toast it up for another minute or so. Stir in the coconut milk, brown sugar, soy sauce, lime leaf and fish sauce, and mix it all together and bring it to a simmer. Simmer for a bit to allow the flavors to blend and the sauce to thicken slightly. At this point, I add any frozen veggies I am using. (NOTE: I always add frozen peas and fresh spinach at the very end, since they only take a minute to cook). Before serving, add in your cooked chicken just to warm through, and taste the sauce for seasoning. Add more soy sauce, fish sauce, or sugar as desired. Remove lime leaf and serve over rice, garnished with basil or cilantro.
Helpful hint: After using a tablespoon or two of the curry paste, you’ll have some leftover. I freeze it in a snack-size ziplock bag. If you’re going to do this, be sure to remove all the air and label it with a marker – the red and yellow look very similar, and can also be confused with leftover chipotle peppers in adobo, which I also freeze this way – welcome to SpiceBoy’s world!
Check out Maesri brand on the web, with tons of products and lots of cool recipes:
Also known as “rooster sauce” (and sometimes “cock sauce” – for the rooster on its label), Sriracha is a Thai hot sauce named for Si Racha, the central Thailand town in which it is produced. It is sweet, pungent and spicy, made with hot chile peppers, sugar, salt, vinegar, and lots or garlic. You can often see it served as a condiment alongside phở, the Vietnamese soup, as well as Japanese teriyaki, though it is Thai in origin. I find it truly addictive; I love it with Asian style soups (including Chinese won ton soup) and all manner of noodle dishes. Stateside, it has been consistently gaining popularity, appearing in more and more Asian restaurants. It’s versatility knows no bounds. You can find it at the hot sauce bar at the DC-area Mexican franchise California Tortilla, and I once saw it in a pizza parlor. It even has its own fan page on Facebook!