Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook

You know you'll never have trouble getting some heat with chile peppers even if we have 36 inches of snow outside well into March. It's about time we spice it up.

 

The chile pepper is the plant that puts fire on your tongue and maybe even a tear in your eye when you eat spicy Mexican, simmering Szechuan, smoldering Indian, or torrid Thai food. Chili peppers belong to the Capsicum family of foods and contain a substance called capsaicin, which gives peppers their characteristic pungency, producing mild to intense spice when eaten.  There are hundreds of different types of chili peppers that vary in size, shape, color, flavor and heat.

The hottest varieties include habañero and Scotch bonnet peppers. Jalapeños are next in their heat and capsaicin content, followed by the milder varieties, including Spanish pimentos, and Anaheim and Hungarian cherry peppers.

Chili peppers are extremely healthy for you, and should be included in your regular diet. Here's why:

  • Chili Peppers Fight Migraine Headaches and Sinus Headaches - Studies show that chili peppers can provide pain relief for migraine and sinus headaches. Capsaicin, the chemical that makes chili peppers hot, is known to inhibit a key neuropeptide, Substance P, that is the key brain pain transmitter.
  • Chili Peppers Prevent Sinusitis and Relieve Congestion - The Capsaicin pepper heat helps to stimulate secretions that aid in clearing mucus from your nose, combatting nasal congestion. It also contains antibacterial properties that help fight chronic sinus infections.
  • Chili Peppers Fight Cancer - Capsaicin not only causes the tongue to burn, it also drives prostate cancer cells to kill themselves, according to studies published in the March 15 issue of Cancer Research.
  • Chili Peppers Help Lower High Blood Pressure - Eating chili peppers are naturally high in vitamins A and C, and also bioflavinoids.
  • Chili Peppers Fight Inflammation - Capsaicin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent.
  • Chili Peppers Help Soothe Intestinal Diseases
  • Chili Pepper Can Help You Burn Fat and Lose Weight - Capsaicin is a thermogenic which stimulates the body's burning of fat by increasing the metabolism of the body's adipose tissue, generating heat.
  • Chili Peppers Help Protect Your Heart - Capsaicin may help to protect the heart by reducing cholesterol, triglycerides and platelet aggregation. It may also help the body dissolve fibrin, which is necessary for blood clots to form.
  • Chili Peppers Have Loads of Vitamin C - A typical chili pepper packs more vitamin C than an orange, so if you need your extra C, grab a chili pepper!
  • Chili Peppers Can Warm Your Feet! - Do your feet get cold in the winter? It may be folklore but it is said that sprinkling powdered cayenne in your shoes will keep you feet warm during those cold winter nights.

Next week we'll talk about growing chile peppers and give you a few more recipes and ideas but for now make this simply divine warming soup and try a few of the tips below.

Black Bean Vegetable Soup with Locally Grown Toppings
Serves 6-8

Half of the black beans in this spicy soup are pureed with tomatoes, the other half are simmered with carrots, onion and other veggies.

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 medium jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 6 leaves swiss chard, kale or baby bok choy, chopped into half-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 medium fresh Homestead Gardens Heirloom Tomatoes, diced or 1 (10 oz) can Rotelle Tomatoes with Chiles
  • 1 cup salsa (your choice of spiciness)

locally grown toppings

  • thinly sliced chives or garlic chives and fresh cilantro
  • grated cheddar cheese (we love Chapel Country Creamery, Easton)
  • chopped fresh radish

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and add onion, jalapeno, garlic, and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until onion is softened. Add chili powder and cumin; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add stock and 1 can of the beans.
Meanwhile, in food processor or blender, puree together tomatoes and remaining can of beans; add to the pot of soup. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until carrots are tender. Finally, add the salsa and stir.  Serve with your choice of toppings.

Easy Ideas for Chile Peppers

  • The next time you make healthy sautéed vegetables, add some chili peppers to turn up the spice volume.
  • Add chili peppers to your favorite corn bread recipe to give it an extra spark.
  • Add minced chili peppers to yogurt and use as a condiment or dip.
  • Add jalapeños to your favorite tuna salad recipe.
  • If your curry dishes need a little extra zip, try adding some chili peppers.
  • Purée fresh chili peppers together with olive oil, garlic, coriander, peppermint, and caraway. If you would like, add your own favorite herbs and spices to this mixture to make your own version of Harissa, a condiment popular in the some Middle Eastern and North African countries.

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