Craving a taste of the exotic? Or just trying to escape the weeknight dinner rut? Turn up the heat tonight in your kitchen with these easy, spicy dishes.
Besides being tasty, the benefits of eating spicy food are numerous. Studies suggest that capsaicin, the substance that gives peppers their fiery punch, may temporarily increase metabolism. There’s also evidence to suggest capsaicin can reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in the body, in addition to having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Now that you know why, you might be wondering how to eat spicy food. If you order extra mild for everything, try ramping up your heat tolerance gradually. Start by familiarizing yourself with the Scoville scale, the heat-curious diner’s best friend. Using Scoville Heat Units (SHUs), this scale measures capsaicin concentration and is the go-to guide for all things spicy. Jumping right into ghost peppers, for example – ringing in at a whopping 1,041,427 SHUs – might be traumatizing to uninitiated taste buds. Better to start with something milder like an Anaheim chili, clocking in at around 1,500 SHUs, before moving onto hotter cousins like the jalapeño, about 4,000-6,000 SHUs, or serrano, about 10,000-12,000 SHUs.
Now that you know the score, try your hand (and tongue) at these fiery recipes.
1. Piri Piri Sauce
This hot sauce hails from Portugal where it’s a go-to for sassing up grilled meat and fish dishes. Sometimes spelled ‘peri peri’ or ‘peli peli’, its named after the African birds-eye chili traditionally used to make it.
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Purée until slightly chunky. Keep sauce refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
2. Chicken Vindaloo
This spicy chicken recipe from Goa, India gained its massive popularity in the UK. A hotter relative of madras curry, this vindaloo packs a punch thanks to a combination of red jalapeños and chiles de árbol.
- In a small bowl or using a mortar and pestle, combine jalapeños, chiles de árbol, garlic, ginger and vinegar. Mash together until a thick paste forms.
- Season chicken with salt. Cover chicken completely with spice paste and allow to marinate for at least 4 hours, up to 12 hours (the chicken will become hotter the longer it marinates).
- In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Add mustard seeds and cook until they begin to pop, about 2 minutes.
- Add marinated chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan. Stir fry for 2 minutes. Add remaining spices and water, stirring well to combine.
- Cover pan and allow chicken to simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook for an additional 10 minutes to thicken sauce.
- Serve curry over basmati rice and garnish with cilantro leaves.
3. Vegan Thai Green Curry
Forget curry paste from a jar! It’s quick and easy to make your own at home using fresh ingredients. To dial down the heat on this five-alarm curry, remove the ribs and seeds from your chilis (but why would you want to do that?).
- In a food processor, combine all ingredients for curry paste. Pulse, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, until mixture becomes a smooth paste.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, add coconut oil and the top layer of fat from the coconut milk can. Once melted, add the green curry paste and cook, stirring continuously, until thickened and nearly dry, about 2 minutes.
- Add remaining coconut milk and 1/2 cup water and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the broccoli and cauliflower and cook for 4 minutes. Add snow peas and bok choy, cook for another 3 minutes. Add bell pepper and cook for an additional minute, until all vegetables are crisp-tender.
- Serve curry over warm rice, garnished with scallion.
4. Sriracha Pulled Pork
Throw a spicy curveball at your next backyard BBQ with this tangy, sweet-hot pulled pork recipe. The best part? Your slow cooker does most of the work.
- In a small bowl, combine sugar and spices. Pat pork shoulder dry and evenly apply spice rub all over.
- Add onions and garlic to the bottom of a slow cooker. Place pork on top.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together sriracha, vinegar, juice and stock. Pour mixture over pork.
- Cover and cook on HIGH for 8 hours, until meat is very tender and falling apart. Remove from slow cooker and cool for 15 minutes. Shred with forks.
- Serve pork piled high on potato rolls topped with coleslaw and an additional drizzle of sriracha, if desired.
5. Spicy Ceviche
This spicy shrimp recipe, with its no-heat cooking method, is a favorite in Peru. It’s made with habanero peppers, aka Scotch bonnets, which leave their burn for a while. Don’t rub your eyes after handling them!
- In a food processor, combine lime juice, celery, cilantro, cumin, garlic, habanero and salt. Pulse until completely smooth.
- In a large glass bowl, combine tilapia and shrimp. Toss with lime juice mixture and allow to marinate for one hour, until seafood is firm and opaque.
- Meanwhile, boil potatoes and yam separately until tender. Once cool, peel and slice into 1/2-inch pieces.
- Place onion in hot (not boiling) water and soak for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
- Once the seafood is “cooked,” add wilted onions to the bowl.
- To serve, line serving bowls with lettuce leaves. Spoon the ceviche with its juice into the bowls, top with slices of potato and yam, and garnish with chives.
6. Chili Chocolate Truffles
Who says you can’t enjoy a little spice after your meal, too? These truffles feature a combination of cayenne and chocolate, a classic in Mexican cuisine.
- In a small pan over medium-low heat, bring cream to a gentle boil. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla, cayenne, cinnamon and salt. Transfer chocolate to a medium bowl and cover with cream mixture. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir until smooth and evenly combined.
- Pour mixture into a large baking pan or shallow dish. Refrigerate, uncovered, until just set, about 2 hours.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment. Using a tablespoon, scoop the firm chocolate mixture and shape it into a ball with your hands. Roll truffles alternatingly in cocoa powder and peanuts, so you end up with an even number of each.
- Return finished truffles to refrigerator for one hour. Bring to room temperature before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.