Westerners have Christopher Columbus to thank for the confusing term “chilli pepper”, when in fact chilli bears no relation to peppercorns. Looking for trade routes to spice-rich Asia, the Spanish explorer instead stumbled across South America; he named its exotic fruits for their ability to spice up food just like the coveted peppercorns.
For proof of this magical spice’s versatility, look no further than Mexico. Here the cuisine celebrates hundreds of types of chillies, with different names for fresh and dried varieties. For example, a dried poblano is called an ancho, and a dried and smoked jalapeno is a chipotle. Chillies are indispensible in tacos, tamales, moles, tortillas, frijoles, enchiladas, hot chocolate and many desserts.
When cooking with chilli, start with a light hand and remember that the amount of fat in the food affects the intensity of the heat and its speed on the palate. Oils and fats coat capsaicin molecules, reducing or delaying their bite, which is why coconut milk works well in dishes such as Thai red curry.
Use dried chillies in ...
chilli con carne, curries, tagines, moles, fajitas, jambalaya, southern fried chicken, Bombay potatoes, pickles, salsas, rubs, marinades, stir-fries, soups, sauces, dips, chocolate drinks and desserts.
Chillies go with ...
pork, fish, beef, lamb, chicken, duck, seafood, onion, garlic, tomato, eggplant, potatoes, coconut milk, yoghurt, cumin, saffron, rice, noodles, nuts, chocolate.