Peasant food: Spicing up your diet with chili peppers

A couple of years back, my wife and I stumbled across a copy of Jan and Michael Stern's incredible chili cookbook, Chili Nation. As we're often in the mood for self-destructive, punishingly hot food, we decided that we would cook every recipe in the book. By the time we were finished, our daughter was eating adult food, and her favorite dish was, of course, chili.

The first lesson that Chili Nation taught us was that chili covers a wide spectrum, ranging from smooth, calming comfort food to gut-busting explosive cuisine. It can be made with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, crab, shrimp, vegetables, and pretty much anything else that can be clubbed into submission and jammed into a pot. While I won't claim that we loved (or even liked) every recipe in the Sterns' book, we were deeply impressed with the wide range of tastes and cultures that their chilies represented. And, to be honest, most of the recipes were amazing.

We also cultivated a deep appreciation of chili peppers. Although both of us had tried a pretty wide variety of peppers, we simply had no idea of the incredible range of chilies that were out there. From the relatively mild spice of Anchos to the smokiness of pasillas to the brutal heat of habañeros, we learned that chili peppers can offer a startling array of flavors.

As I further researched the chili, I discovered even more interesting things: chili peppers are actually the fruit of the capsicum plant, although they are generally treated like either a vegetable or a spice, depending on how they are prepared. They contain an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A, C, D, E, and B6, as well as considerable amounts of potassium, magnesium, iron, and folic acid. Red chilies also contain lycopene, the cancer-preventing compound for which tomatoes are famous.


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