Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bring the Heat

Growing up, my husband used to eat his mother's South Indian curries and complain about the heat, gasping for his water glass. She would raise an eyebrow and say, "It's not too hot, you're too weak."

The first time his mother cooked for me, my husband warned me that his mother brought the heat when she cooked. I wasn't worried, because I like spicy food. A lot. Plus, his mother was also cooking for Awesome Stepkid R, who was then eight years old. I figured she wouldn't damage his tender tastebuds for the world.

When we sat down to eat R.'s favorite South Indian Chicken Curry with Poori, I hesitated, watching father and son take their first fragrant bites. My husband chewed, swallowed and reached for his water glass. "Kinda hot there, kid," he cautioned. Awesome Stepkid R. was already on his third piece of chicken, hoovering it down like a pro.

That's my kinda kid.

R. and I love our spicy food. We put Sriracha, crushed red pepper and jalapenos on darn near everything. He can eat a "Thai hot" curry in a restaurant without a blink. He lives for habanero. In all things spicy, he and I are kindred spirits.

A few years ago, Awesome Stepkid R. was going through a not so awesome time. It was Christmas break and R. was still smarting from the defection of his best friend, who had suddenly decided that another kid was funnier, smarter, more entertaining than R. You think that bullshit only happens to girls, but it doesn't. The kid was crushed.

I was trying to get him to talk, but like many 12 year old boys, he wasn't a wellspring of information. He sulked in his room and answered queries with grunts. I decided we needed an activity to take his mind off his tarnished pride, so the Salsa Project was born.

"Let's make homemade salsa for Christmas presents this year," I said.
He looked up from his video game for a nanosecond. "Ummm. Kay."

I went online to hunt for recipes and came out 20 minutes later with some promising ones. We drove to the grocery store in silence. R. looked out the window, pressed his forehead to the cold glass. Finally, when we were almost to our destination he said, "Why don't we make two kinds? It'll be more fun."

It was fun. We made two kick-ass salsas that year and we were proud to give them and friends were thrilled to get them. We also started a new family tradition. Every year R. and I pore over recipes, trying to find the right one. It is a mark of pride that we outdo last year's effort. It's a great activity to pass time on a snowy weekend, especially if you're trying to wheedle information from a silent teen.

Our weekends aren't snowy right now but I stumbled across this recipe in Bobby Flay's cookbook Grilling For Life and I knew it was for us. "Hey, wanna make homemade pickled jalapenos?"

This time he drove to the grocery store. And I pressed my forehead to a hot window, wishing for air conditioning. Changes come 'round quickly over here, but one thing's going to stay the same. Awesome Stepkid R. and I will be futzing in the kitchen, looking to bring some heat.

Pickled Jalapenos from Bobby Flay's Grilling for Life
makes 10-15 jalapenos

3 cups white wine vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
10-15 jalapeno peppers (depending on their size)

Combine all of the ingredients except for the cilantro and jalapenos in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes before adding cilantro.

Pack the jalapenos into a quart-sized Mason jar or place in a medium bowl. Pour the warm vinegar mixture over them, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 2 weeks.

** Flay prefaces the recipe with the following: This is a great way to add POW to your dishes without adding fat or calories. They are great on burgers, hot dogs, sausages and, of course, nachos.

***Note from me: open a window or 5 when boiling the vinegar mixture. We drove my pickle-phobic husband out of the house--it's that pungent.

I see some nachos in our future!


  1. mmm I love nachos, especially when they are made well. My favorite pepper is the bird's eye chili. It spices everything up nicely.

  2. I swear I commented on this earlier today. Your blog ate it. Or maybe I said something extra-stupid and you did me a favor. In any case, hi! :)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I would never edit you, Ink, even if you did say something extra-stuipid. Which you wouldn't.

  5. Hmmmmm an INK eating blog LOL!! Love the pickled peppers. YUM al the way. I'd love to make these. Thank you for posting the recipe. BTW, I really enjoyed reading your post. Was a whole lot of fun!

  6. What a great way to connect. Some activities, like cooking, do what words can't.

    (And I can't wait until my girls like spicy food!)

  7. If my garden can kick out enough jalapenos this summer this would be a wonderful way to use them! Love the salsa story!

  8. Hi- what a great story, one I will remember when I am trying to talk to my boys later on!
    Dying to try the recipe but I haven't a clue where to buy Jalapenos in Australia- so,so sad....

  9. I have a blog friend who has a chilli plant and is wondering what to do with all her chillis - so I sent her a link to this - perhaps she'll contact you for tips! xxx

  10. Good to know about the toxic pickle fumes!! Ihate it when you get a smell like that in the house and then it lingers for days... We eat a lot of sauerkraut and if you aren't a lover of the kraut, well...

  11. Can we get married? We can take turns cooking... : ) I'm just kidding (maybe), you always have such fabulous recipes to share!

  12. Ha! Paige, you'd never stay married to me; I am way high maintenance. And annoying. And bossy. And.....

  13. Love this post. Too, too touchingly sweet. Bonding over cooking. Love that stuff.