Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.
Picture your humble scribe as a callow youth sporting a shock of dyed bright orange hair, shaved bare at the temples. Complete the picture with a red and black striped Dennis the Menace (UK version) chenille jumper and a pair of bondage jeans. That was me.
The soundtrack to that period of my life was the ubiquitous Relax, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and I was in a relationship with a young lady who had grown up in Austin, Texas. Her dad had been a cop in that city who, according to my girlfriend, had been on duty the day Charles Whitman fired shots from the observation deck of the main building tower of the University of Texas. But why am I telling you this? Because that relationship introduced me to the official dish of Texas: chilli.
Of course, I’d had chilli before, but nothing quite like the version my girlfriend’s mother made. I got my (then) omnivorous teeth into bowl after bowl of the stuff, as they used to make it about twice a week. With my love of her chilli established, I looked forward with keen anticipation to sampling the next stage of my girlfriend’s mother’s Texas culinary repertoire, home made tacos. Sadly, her daughter gave me the elbow before I got my teeth into those, but I did come away with a passion for chilli, and I started making it for myself.
Homemade Chilli Spice Mixture
I tend to stick to the following formula for my dry mix. I find these proportions to be about right for my taste, but of course you can add more or less, depending on how spicy you like your chilli. Most of these ingredients are capable of overpowering a dish on their own, hence the sparing measures.
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
I learned some time ago, via a friend’s Red Hot Chili Peppers sweatshirt, that the preferred American spelling of that fiery fruit has only one letter l, as opposed to two here in the UK. Just to make things more complicated, the country Chile is pronounced the same, but has an e on the end, and for further confusion, that same word rhymes with mile in Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile.
But whichever way it is spelled or pronounced, Man has had a long-standing love affair with the hotter varieties of capsicum, and there are some who take this to the extreme. A restaurant in my area, long since closed, ran a so-called curry hell challenge, in which the meal would be awarded free of charge to any diner who finished it. I have no idea as to the number of successful completions, but there are several videos online that show diners attempting the challenge. So what is it that draws us to food that can be uncomfortable, even painful to eat?
The answer would appear to be pain. Not because we are a species of masochists, but rather on sensing the pain of hot spices on the tongue, our hypothalamus and pituitary glands release endorphins, those peptide hormones that give us a feeling of well-being. So if more heat means more endorphins, then which chillies pack the most punch? Well, there’s a scale on which we can measure that.
The Scoville scale, developed by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912, measures the ‘heat’ of peppers, and there are some varieties out there that are way hotter than our everyday chillis. If we take a familiar pepper, the jalapeño for example, we see that it has a reading of 2,500 – 8000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). That is actually in the lower reaches of the table; up at the top end we have the Carolina reaper, dragon’s breath and pepper X, which are in the throat-searing region of 1,4000,000 – 2,200,000 SHU. Now that’s spicy!
Vegan Cornbread Recipe
I made the cornbread in the photos using a recipe from the vegan recipe channel It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken, so it's only right that Sam should get the credit. This is very easy to make, and it is the perfect accompaniment to any chilli dish.
Vegetable Chilli Recipe
- 1 tablespoon oil
- Chilli spice mix (see recipe above)
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 or 4 mushrooms, sliced
- 1 carrot, sliced
- ½ head of broccoli, cut into small florets
- 1 can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1 can red kidney beans, drained
- 1/2 cup sweetcorn
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion until soft.
- Stir in the spice mix and garlic
- Add the mushrooms, carrot and broccoli
- Pour in the tomatoes and add the kidney beans and sweetcorn
- Stir in the tomato paste and combine all the ingredients
- Bring the chilli to a boil and reduce the heat immediately
- Crumble in the stock cube and stir
- Simmer for 20–30 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally
- Some chilli powders have cumin already added; check the ingredients and omit if necessary.
- Use 1 teaspoon of yeast extract in place of the stock cube.
- There are many more vegetables that go well in chilli.
Chilli Prep Playlist
Wire's post-punk album 154 was years ahead of its time. I received it from my gran for Christmas, and while I was initially disappointed at the lack of 12XU type raucousness, I soon fell in love with it. The 15th is my favourite track. A rare treat.