I write this from the sweltering heat of Florida. Florida in July is often cooler than the Northeast in July, but not this summer — Florida has been under a heat wave of epic proportions. Temperatures in the high nineties every day, with heat indexes as high as 112. It’s too hot for the beach and too hot for the pool.
I was in the kosher butcher and grocery shop the other day, and one of the chefs came over and asked if he could get me something. I told him I wanted something to eat in this awful heat, but that it was too hot for anything but iced tea and popsicles. He told me to follow himto the display of cooked chicken, where he handed me a bag labeled “VERY Hot and Spicy Chicken Wings.”
I thought he was crazy. I love spicy — not too spicy, but some heat — but hot and spicy in this blistering heat would be too much.
I took the wings and served them as an appetizer for dinner. They were very hot, very spicy, and very delicious. Soon after I ate them, I noticed that despite the 96-degree temperature at 7:30 pm, I wasn’t so hot anymore. The wings had worked! My mouth felt the heat of cayenne and Tabasco, but I was cooler. If only the Jews in the desert had had red pepper flakes and cayenne!
So what is the mechanism that causes hot foods to cool you off? It’s called “gustatory facial sweating.” Hot foods cause you to sweat. For some people it’s merely a gentle moist coating; for others it’s a full, dripping sweat that cools you off. Unlike a cold drink, which wears off as soon as you take the last sip, the effects of spicy food last quite a while.
Make some heat in the heat and cool down. I hear there’s another heat wave coming!
Hot and Spicy Chicken or Beef Stir Fry (Meat)
1 to 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or lean beef, such as London Broil
1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
3/4 pound mixed mushrooms, oyster, shitake, button, trimmed and cut in half
3/4 pound snow pea pods
1 red pepper cored, seeded and cut into strips or small pieces
1 carrot, julienned
3 to 4 Tbsp. Canola oil, more if needed
2 Tbsp. tamari sauce
1 to 2 Tbsp. rice wine (Mirin)
1/2 to 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup minced scallions, white and green
2 to 3 Tbsp. finely minced garlic
2 to 3 Tbsp. minced onion
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
OPTIONAL: 1 tsp. hot chili paste or sriracha sauce, more to taste
3/4 cup chicken, beef or vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 Tbsp. tamari sauce
2 Tbsp. rice wine
1 to 2 tsp. sugar, to taste
1 tsp. dark brown sugar, more to taste
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
Cut the chicken or beef into thin slices, about 1/3 inch-thick, and place in a non-reactive bowl. Sprinkle with the cornstarch and toss to coat. Mix the marinade ingredients and pour over the chicken or beef. Cover and refrigerate for one hour, tossing once.
Cut and dice all vegetables as directed and set aside, keeping each vegetable separate.
Heat a large wok and add half the Canola oil. Add the chicken or meat pieces and cook over high heat, stirring until cooked through. Remove to a bowl.
Take about 2 tablespoons of the chicken, beef or vegetable stock and add it to the tablespoon cornstarch in a small cup. Stir well. Mix the rest of the sauce ingredients together in another bowl and set aside. Reheat the pan and add the remaining oil. Add the seasonings and stir about 20 seconds. Add the red peppers and stir for about 45 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir for about 45 seconds. Add the snow peas and carrots and stir for about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sauce to the pan and, when hot, add the cornstarch mixture. Stir constantly to prevent lumps. Add the chicken or beef and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Serve immediately over noodles or rice, or serve plain to save carbs. Serves 4 to 8 depending on whether you add rice or noodles.
NOTE: Kids love this without the chili paste, served with crispy noodles.
Hot and Spicy Chickpeas (Pareve)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. cumin
2 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. coriander
1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp. sugar
1 28-ounce can chopped or diced tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
1/3 cup fresh parsley, finely minced
OPTIONAL: 1 to 2 Tbsp. harissa sauce, to taste
Pinch to 1/2 tsp., cayenne pepper, to taste
Heat a large skillet and add the olive oil. Add the cumin, coriander, and ginger and stir constantly to cook the spices, about 1 minute. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until translucent and fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and cook until reduced by half. Add the chickpeas and tomatoes, including juices, and mix well. Add the sugar and mix well. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Mix and taste. Add the harissa, if desired, for more heat. Add salt, pepper and parsley. Mix. Adjust seasonings to taste. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Hot and Spicy Grilled Chicken Thighs (Meat)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. sweet paprika or smoked paprika, more to taste
3 Tbsp. onion powder
3 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, more or less to taste
1-1/2 Tbsp. black pepper
2 to 3 Tbsp. kosher salt
10 to 15 chicken thighs or legs
1/2 to 1 cup canola oil
Place oil in a bowl and dip all chicken pieces in the oil to coat. Shake off excess and place on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle the run generously on all sides of the chicken.
Set aside for 15 minutes. Sprinkle again and let sit 5 minutes. Place on preheated, well-oiled grill and cook until cooked through, turning as needed. Sprinkle again once during cooking. Serves 5 to 7.