Can you take the heat? No, I don’t mean the hot weather, although those 90 degree-plus days kind of hit me hard! I’m talking about spicy foods or hot peppers. I do enjoy spicy food, but I don’t want smoke blowing out of my ears. I can’t take food that’s so spicy that it completely destroys the taste of the food.

The spiciest food I ever tasted without doubt was Ethiopian food. This was right after my brother had returned from that country. His first wife was from Ethiopia. She prepared an Ethiopian dish with spices she had brought back from Ethiopia. She was cooking according to her taste which could handle extremely hot food. She hadn’t learned to cook for the American taste. The spices used in most Ethiopian food is called berebere. It’s actually a blend of many spices including hot pepper, cardamon, cinnamon and fenugreek. If you ever get the opportunity to try Ethiopian food, I’d recommend you give it a try. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten. There’s an Ethiopian restaurant in Knoxville called Gosh Ethiopian Restaurant. It’s located on Sutherland Avenue. You won’t regret it!

Capsaicin is the compound that gives chili peppers their heat. Up to 80% of a chili pepper’s capsaicin is located in the seeds and the membranes, so if you’re sensitive to heat, trim these parts off and use gloves when handling chili peppers.

As a general rule of thumb, the larger in size a chili pepper is, the milder the heat level. Smaller chili peppers contain a higher proportion of the spicy seeds and membranes, making them much hotter.

Chili peppers heat level is measured on the Scoville Scale, invented in 1912. It is based on human taste buds trying to detect heat in an alcohol-based extract made with the chili pepper as it is diluted. The degree of dilution translates into Scoville heat units (SHU). The hotter a chili pepper is, the higher the SHU since it needs to be diluted more to reduce or eliminate the heat.

The hottest chili pepper on record is currently the Carolina Reaper which has a Scoville rating of 2,200.000 SHU. That is two hundred times hotter than a jalapeno. Wow!! Wouldn’t want to accidently get hold of one of those!!

The four most common types of chili peppers are the jalapeno, the Serrano, the habanero and the bird’s eye chili. The first three are common in Mexican cuisine. The bird’s eye chili is common in Southeast Asia cuisine.

If you ever forget your gloves when chopping chili peppers and get “pepper hands”, you might want to try some of these remedies.

1. Oil — Oil helps dissolve the hot chili oils. Some have even claimed that rubbing your hands with just a touch of vegetable or olive oil (but not enough for your hands to become slippery) before cutting peppers will coat them enough to prevent the sting from happening in the first place.

2. Dish Soap — Many dish soaps can dissolve oils and are more effective than regular hand soap. Reach for this to wash your hands after dicing up peppers.

3. Alcohol — Chili oil and capsaicin are more soluble in alcohol than in water, so a good splash of rubbing alcohol or even high-proof alcohol like vodka can help wash it away.

4. Whole Milk or Yogurt — The theory behind this one is that chili pepper is also more soluble in fats and oils than it is in water. While some claim this is an urban legend, others swear by it! Soak your hands in the milk or yogurt until the burning sensation stops.

5. Weak Bleach Solution — You can occasionally dip your fingers in a five-to-one solution of water and bleach while you’re working. The bleach will turn the capsaicin into a water-soluble salt that will then rinse away.

6. Baking Soda Paste — Make a thick paste of baking soda and water and apply it directly to your hands. Leave it on until it dries before washing off

Did you know that chili peppers have many health benefits such as help with headaches, arthritis relief, a sinus soother, an anti-inflammatory, gastric relief, cancer fighter, a heart protectant and a skin protectant.

If you ever eat anything too spicy and need relief, remember to use either milk or yogurt and not water to cool down your mouth.

I’m giving you three recipes today using hot peppers. The first is for a corn casserole. My aunt gave me this recipe many years ago. You can adjust the heat level by taking out the seeds and veins or leaving them in. You could also add another pepper if you like it really spicy. I find that one with the seeds and veins is perfect for me.

The second is for jalapeno poppers. Again, you can adjust the heat level by using the seeds and veins if you like them spicier.

The third is for a summer salsa. Grainger County tomatoes are already available, and homegrown ones will be just around the corner. You can again adjust the heat level by the types of peppers you use, how many and using the veins and seeds.

If you have any comments, questions or requests, please contact me at mammawcas@gmail.com.

As always, enjoy!

Jalapeno-Corn Casserole

1 cup uncooked regular rice

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium sized green pepper, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

½ cup margarine, melted

1 tablespoon sugar

1 jalapeno pepper, chopped finely

2-17 ounce cans cream style corn

1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese

Cook rice according to package directions, Set aside.

Sauté onion, green pepper, and celery in margarine until vegetables are tender. Combine rice, sautéed vegetables and next four ingredients, stirring well. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 12 x 8 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

Ingredients

20 whole Fresh Jalapenos, 2-3 Inches In Size

2 cubes Cream Cheese, Softened

1 pound Thin (regular) Bacon, sliced into thirds

Instructions

If you have them, slip on some latex gloves for the pepper prep ... Cut jalapenos in half, length-wise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and white membrane (the source of the heat; leave a little if you like things HOT). Smear softened cream cheese into each jalapeno half. Wrap jalapeno with bacon pieces (1/3 slice). Secure by sticking toothpick through the middle.

Bake on a pan with a rack in a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. You don’t want the bacon to shrink so much it starts to the squeeze the jalapeno. If, after 20 minutes, the bacon doesn’t look brown enough, just turn on the broiler for a couple of minutes to finish it off. These are best when the jalapeno still has a bit of bite to it.

Serve immediately, or they’re also great at room temperature.

Summer Salsa

3 large tomatoes, peeled, chopped

1 chili pepper, seeded, finely chopped

3 jalapeno peppers, seeded, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, pressed or finely chopped

Pinch of black pepper

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Dash of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley or cilantro

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

Combine all ingredients into bowl, mix well. Adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate for several hours. Serve with tortilla chips or with Mexican dishes. Yield: 2-½ cups.