The most important observance of this budding year is upon us. It’s a celebration worthy of pomp, fanfare and a slew of culinary fireworks. Figuratively and literally.
This Saturday, Jan. 16, is International Hot & Spicy Foods Day. Yes, international as in worldwide. Global. If you’re neither a hot nor spicy food person, you might want to nonetheless keep reading.
If you’ve ever heard someone say ‘I can’t eat spicy foods because they cause me stomach issues,’ just know that they might well be misdiagnosing themselves.
In fact, capsaicin (it’s what gives chiles their heat) affects the mucous membranes, but is widely used as an active ingredient in pain relieving creams; the US Food & Drug Administration has approved it for treatment of nerve pain caused by shingles; and it’s banned in horse racing because it helps numb equine muscle pain, providing an unfair advantage.
Did you know? The stomach is a muscular organ.
For years, every doctor in the country blamed stomach ulcers on pepper consumption. We now know that a certain bacteria is mostly responsible for ulcers. Furthermore, that rumor about spicy foods causing acid reflux? Lots of things — hiatal hernias, pregnancy and smoking, to name a few — bring on acid reflux symptoms. But not spicy foods.
Now, if you don’t experience the same endorphin release as many of us do when something really spicy touches the tongue, bless your heart. You’re still welcome to stop by the Jimmy Rockford and order up your tacos on the mild side. Otherwise, consider making my version of a popular Mexican condiment (below) or Shea Goldstein’s 911 Chili Cheese Queso, a smooth addictive concoction that’ll send your taste buds into a piquant frenzy.
If you like spice, this tasty authentic taqueria-style Chile de Arbol Salsa is also right up your alley. It’s not the same stuff served alongside chips at your favorite Tex-Mex haunt. Rather, this is the nectar usually served from squeeze bottles at legit mom & pop Mexican dives. It’s great on everything but flan and sopapillas and is a breeze to make.
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Chile de Arbol Salsa
- 1 – Large tomato, stemmed & cored
- 1 – Small Onion, peeled
- 4 – Medium Tomatillos, paper removed & cored
- 3 – Garlic cloves, peeled
- 15 – Chiles de Arbol, stemmed*
- ¼ cup – Fresh cilantro
- 2 tsp – Kosher salt
- 1 TB – Lime juice (optional)
- Place a very lightly oiled (or properly seasoned) cast iron skillet over medium heat.**
- Add tomato, onion and tomatillos to the pan and roast – turning regularly – until lightly charred, about 10 minutes. Add garlic to pan during the last 3-4 minutes.
- Remove everything from skillet and set aside.
- Add chile de arbols and roast for about 30 seconds per side. Remove from skillet. (They become bitter very quickly, so keep an eye on them. If you overdo it, toss them and try again.)
- Mix all ingredients, including cilantro, salt and lime juice, if using, in a blender or food processor until it reaches your desired consistency. Add a little extra water if it's too thick.
- Season with additional salt, if desired.
- Refrigerate and serve cold.
**Can also use a very lightly oiled stainless skillet.