A meal of hot dishes can set your palate on fire

July 19, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

A whole meal from hot dishes? Nothing could be simpler. You have most of the world's cuisine to choose from.

Use caution when working with chilies; capsaicin, the tasteless and colorless compound that determines the heat in a pepper, can burn. Some people use gloves when peeling or chopping chilies. If the juice gets on your fingers, don't touch your face or eyes. Washing with soap and water will help, but the capsaicin just has to wear off.

You can vary the heat in a recipe simply by using more or less of the heat-producing ingredient. If you're not sure how hot you can stand a dish, add the hot ingredients in small batches, tasting as you go.

The first two recipes -- for a starting course and a finishing touch -- are from "Hot, Hotter, Hottest," by Janet Hazen (Chronicle Books, 1992, $12.95 paperback). She gives the soup a hotness rating of 4 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the hottest. The pepper-lime ice rates a 6.

Avocado soup with green peppercorns

Serves six.

1 medium onion, cut in medium dice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 cup olive oil

4 large ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped

2 1/2 quarts light chicken stock

1/3 cup green peppercorns in brine, drained (reserve a few for garnish)

salt and pepper, to taste

cilantro leaves, for garnish

In a large saucepan, cook the onion, garlic and spices in the olive oil over moderate heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the avocados and chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook for 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Puree the soup in a blender until very smooth. Transfer back to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the peppercorns and salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook for 10 minutes. Serve with a garnish of cilantro and a few peppercorns.

Jalapeno-lime ice

Serves six.

3 cups water

2 cups sugar

8 jalapeno peppers, coarsely chopped

1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped mint leaves

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

4 cups ice cubes

mint sprigs, for garnish

lime slices, for garnish

Place the water, sugar, jalapeno peppers, mint and lime juice in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Strain the liquid and place in a covered, nonreactive container in the freezer for 6 hours, or up to 2 days. (The mixture won't freeze, but will become slushy and icy.)

Using a cleaver or heavy object, slightly crush the ice cubes. Place ice cubes in a blender along with the jalapeno-lime mixture. Blend until the ice is finely crushed. Serve immediately, garnished with sprigs of fresh mint and lime slices.

The next two recipes, for an entree of shrimp and green-chile rice pilaf, are from "The Fiery Cuisines," by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach (Ten-Speed Press, 1991, $11.95 paperback). The authors give each dish a "pungency rating" based roughly on where its hot ingredients fall on the Scoville scale of hotness.

The pungency rating is exponential, however; a rating of 8, for instance, is not twice as hot as a rating of 4, but is instead four times as hot. The shrimp dish rates a 6 and the rice a 4.

Mozambique spicy shrimp

Serves four to six.

4 tablespoons crushed red chile

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup oil (peanut preferred)

salt to taste

2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Combine the garlic and 1/2 cup of the oil in a blender and puree until smooth. In a nonreactive dish large enough to hold the shrimp, combine the garlic-oil mixture, the chile, remaining oil, salt and shrimp. Toss until shrimp is completely covered. Marinate the shrimp in the refrigerator for 4 hours.

Broil the shrimp over charcoal or under a broiler. Melt the butter and stir in the lemon juice. Add 1/2 cup marinade to the lemon oil. To serve, pour the lemon/pepper butter over the shrimp.

Green rice

Serves six.

4 green chilies, skinned, seeds removed, chopped

2 cups long-grain white rice

2 tablespoons butter or oil

1 onion, chopped fine

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups stock (chicken or beef)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Saute the rice in the butter or oil until golden brown. Add the onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Take care not to let the rice burn.

Puree the chilies, garlic and a little stock until smooth. Add this to the rice and continue cooking over low heat for 5 minutes.

Stir in the remaining stock and transfer the mixture to a baking dish. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

The next recipe, for muffins to accompany the meal, is from "Peppers: A Cookbook," by Robert Berkley (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1992, $17 paperback). He rates them as "medium" hot.

Jalapeno and ham corn muffins

Makes 12 muffins.

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 tablespoons honey

6 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced

1/4 pound ham, diced

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and honey. Pour into the dry-ingredient mixture and stir until completely combined. Stir in the diced peppers and ham.

Pour the batter evenly into the cups of one 12- or two 6-muffin nonstick muffin tins. Bake for 8 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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