Everything You Need to Know About Chile Peppers
We’re joined today by Judith Finlayson, author of many cookbooks including, most recently, The Chile Pepper Bible: 250 Recipes from Sweet to Fiery and Everything in Between. She's telling us about the health benefits of chiles, how to apply the Scoville scale, and the types of chiles home cooks should be acquainted with.
Judith began our conversation by busting one common chile pepper myth: that all chile peppers are hot. Not so! Bell peppers are actually a member of the capsicum family too, making them chile peppers. They're a 0 on the Scoville scale, which is the method of measurement we use to describe the level of heat in different peppers, based on the amount of capsaicin they contain. The much-publicized ghost pepper broke the 1 million point on the Scoville scale, but now even hotter peppers like the Carolina Reaper are being bred, topping 2 million Scoville units. That means there's a huge range in the heat level of peppers.
Judith says it's always a great idea to cook with fresh chiles you can access easily in your local markets, but dried and pickled chiles also add a lot to meals. Fresh pimento peppers, which you might imagine only studding the centers of manzanilla olives or in the beloved cheese of the Southern U.S., are actually even sweeter than bell peppers. And jarred, pickled malagueta peppers are delicious added to deviled eggs.
Chile peppers aren't relegated to savory dishes, either. Judith highlights the interplay of sweet and hot in desserts, as sweetness can balance the heat of peppers. Mayans traditionally combined chile and chocolate. Judith loves making Thai-style pineapple with chiles, based on the Thai street food of fresh fruit served with chile and lime juice to beat the heat. Try barbecueing the pineapple to bring out the deep, rich, caramelized flavors. In Judith's book, strawberry ice pops get spiked with ancho chile powder, and adding chile to basmati rice pudding made with coconut milk uses heat to cut the sweetness and richness. Her brownies, with chipotle cream cheese icing, use chiles for an even more indulgent result.
Check out Judith's book, The Chile Pepper Bible: 250 Recipes from Sweet to Fiery and Everything in Between.