Are you a chile head, or do you lean toward the mild side of the spectrum? Believe it or not, there is a chile dish designed for your palate in the Chile Pepper Bible From Sweet to Fiery and Everything In Between (Robert Rose $27.95), written by Judith Finlayson. In this expansive and exhaustive new book, you are sure to learn a great deal about the history, health benefits, and preparation of the many chiles on the market.
For instance, did you know that when Columbus made his fateful journey, he was seeking not just gold, but the nearly as valuable commodity of black pepper? Before he settled for taking chiles back in its place, black pepper was the only heat known outside of the Americas.
Of course, the rest is history, as chiles have become part of the fabric of cuisines the world over. It’s hard to imagine Thai food with black pepper instead of Chiles isn’t it? This diaspora of hot peppers has resulted in countless new varieties, all integral to the culture they call home.
There are so many, in fact, that Finlayson has to admit that chile culture changes so quickly that she couldn’t hope to write the final word on any of them. To top it off, many chiles travel under different names in different regions of the world, so cataloguing them is a difficult task. Finlayson takes the smart tack of starting with the five major species of capsicum, and traces their descendants all over the globe. There is a handy grid for each one, listing the chile, heat level, description and uses.
The bulk of the book is made up of recipes, with a wealth of informative sidebars featuring the backstory of a chile or spicy preparation in the recipe. Chapters start with appetizers, soups, salads, all the variations on main courses, including a meatless chapter, sauces, even drinks and desserts.
The good thing about exploring chiles in your own kitchen is that you can customize the level of heat. If a recipe looks delicious to you, but you are afraid that a whole Scotch Bonnet or handful or Thai Bird chiles will be too much, you can make the dish and add the chiles as you see fit. As Finlayson points out, chiles are far more than just heat. Each brings a unique flavor, and in each dish, those flavors have been put to best use by the cooks of a faraway region of the world.
The range of this book is impressive, covering the kinds of global foods we have all fallen in love with. A chile laced version of Deviled Eggs might feel familiar for you, or you may be drawn to one of the Malaysian, Ethiopian, Haitian, or other recipes from faraway lands that are probably not as easy to find at restaurants in your town.
Finlayson is a world traveler, and has pursued a love of hot food since a trip to Mexico in the 1970’s. She has scorched her palate and taken the plunge to taste fiery dishes at every opportunity, and brought them home for you. Her research and depth of knowledge makes this more than just a compendium of hot recipes.
For this recipe, I sought out the elusive Aleppo pepper. If you have a Middle Eastern grocery you will find a jar of it it there, or you can always find it online. According to Finlayson, Aleppo Pepper has a medium-hot, deep fruity flavor. It may actually be Turkish Maras pepper, and if you must substitute for it, you can use ancho chiles or a bit of Italian red pepper flakes.
The dip was fantastic smeared on pitas, and the next day enlivened an avocado sandwich with all the nutty, fruity flavor it promised.
If you want to warm up with a culinary journey into the world’s chile-laced foods, this book will carry you through the winter and beyond
Middle Eastern Walnut Dip (Muhammara)
Courtesy of The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet & Mild to Fiery & Everything in Between by Judith Finlayson © 2016 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.
Depending upon the source you consult, this roasted red pepper and walnut dip is Armenian, Arabian, Turkish or Syrian in origin. In any case, it is healthful, delicious and a welcome addition to any mezes platter. I like to serve it with warm pita bread or cucumber slices. If you are not meat-averse, this dip can also be used as a sauce for kebabs.
- Food processor
2 red bell peppers, roasted (see Tips, bottom, or store-bought)
1⁄2 cup walnut halves, toasted
1⁄2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
4 green onions (white and a bit of the green parts), cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp sliced red finger chile
2 tsp Aleppo pepper (or 1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper)
2 tsp ground cumin (see Tips, bottom)
1 tsp salt
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Peel, seed and cut roasted red peppers into quarters. In food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine roasted red peppers, walnuts, pine nuts, green onions, garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, finger chile, Aleppo pepper, cumin and salt. Pulse until finely chopped, about 15 times, stopping and scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary.
- Add olive oil and pulse until blended and desired consistency is achieved, about 6 times. (You want some texture to remain from the walnuts.)
- Transfer to a small serving bowl. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. If refrigerated, before serving, let stand at room temperature to allow the flavors to bloom, about 20 minutes.
Makes about 2 cups (500 mL)
To roast peppers: Brush peppers lightly with oil and place them directly on a hot grill on a preheated barbecue, or arrange them on a baking sheet and place under a preheated broiler. Grill or broil, turning 2 or 3 times, until the skin on all sides is blackened, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl. Cover with a plate and let stand until cool. Using a sharp knife, lift off the skin, reserving any accumulated juices. Discard skin, stems and seeds.
For the best flavor, toast and grind cumin seeds yourself.