Culinistas's Kitchen,  Recipes & Cooking

How to Add Heat to Dishes

A glass container with green pozole inside

by The Culinistas

Whether you’re a spicy food fanatic, or you’re craving a kick, we’ve got some suggestions to take your dish from mild to mouth melting. Any delicious dish has balance between salt, fat, acid, and heat which is why we tend to add a pinch of cayenne to many of our dishes; however, if you’re looking for a dish that matches the temperature outside, use some of the pointers below.

1. Fresh Chilies 

An excellent way to add heat to a dish is through fresh spicy chilies. It may be wise to check the Scoville level of a chili before purchasing it to understand exactly how hot it will be (bell peppers clock in at a 0 while ghost peppers rank as high as 1 million). If you’re picking up a peck of peppers, perhaps start off with a shishito, a long, green, East Asian variety that is delicious grilled or charred in a pan. The catch with shishitos being it’s Russian roulette as one out of every eight peppers packs a punch. 

We love using jalapeño, serrano, and poblanos in traditional Mexican recipes, like a bright salsa verde sauce for steak, in guacamole, or to start our pozole broth. We also suggest mixing minced jalapeño with yogurt, lemon, and currants for a sweet and spicy sauce to dip roasted sweet potatoes.

Fresno chilis have a medium amount of heat, and their bright red color offers a beautiful contrast when garnishing. We use fresno in Couscous and Clover, a couscous & pea salad with a pepita pesto, in addition to blending them up into a sauce for crispy corn fritters.

2. Spices

Dried chili peppers like cayenne and aleppo should have a place in your spice rack for adding a subtle heat (sprinkle a little on mango, watermelon, or pineapple with a squeeze of lime for a refreshing summer treat). For something a little different, we recommend taking a dive into the world of tingly Szechuan peppercorns. We love a like variety called timut for it’s grapefruit-esque flavor. Our Finishing Pepper is a timut blend best on rice dishes, slaws, and even ceviches. 

3. Ginger

Add zing with freshly grated or minced ginger. It’s delicious when joined by fresh herbs and jumbo lump crab in our Crab Salad, and equally as delicious in a sweet application (did someone say fruit salad?!) Pro tip: peel your ginger with a spoon to get in all the nooks and crannies.

Thank you to Nadia Agsen for the beautiful photo.