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This week in Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions, we’re going to talk about food. Now, for Dallas folks, I could bring up local joys such as The Maple Leaf Diner, Tasty Tails, Sababa, and Blu’s Barbeque, but that’s not fair to everyone else, and the idea of these gift options is that they’re open to everyone, regardless of travel options and lockdowns. Instead, we’re going to talk about heat.
Texas cuisine has a reputation for revving the Scoville scale, but what makes it work is an understanding of the flavor that the heat complements and compliments. That’s an overriding concern with most vendors at ZestFest, the largest spicy foods show in the US: any idiot can dump a kilo of ground Carolina Reaper pepper atop an otherwise perfectly good hamburger and post video of the subsequent prolapse on YouTube, but the artist knows when just a little gets the job done and when the chef needs to take the controls of the Titanic and yell “Full speed ahead! Let’s turn that chunk of ice into margaritas!” Therefore, some suggestions on all aspects of that joy, starting with where to start when you don’t know where to start.
When starting with good and hot food, it’s often best to go with someone who knows what they’re doing and trust their assessments. Just like following a film critic with whom you may not always agree but who makes you contemplate going into new cinematic territory, you may have to poke around and find someone with a similar appreciation of heat, and my personal guru in that regard is Mike Hultquist of Chili Pepper Madness. Recently, he’s been expanding into reminding people of Cajun remoulade and horseradish sauces, and his recipes are never boring. Best of all, if going through online listings doesn’t work for you, his cookbooks are dangerous to read in bed unless you look forward to drowning in a pool of your own drool. May I recommend his recipe for peri peri sauce?
In a lot of circumstances, you may just want something easy: you’re not in the mood to or not able to make a full fiery dish, or you want to kick up something that everyone else in the family wants to keep bland. (Speaking from experience, New England-style clam chowder is always improved with a good dose of Tabasco or sriarcha sauce, but I don’t dare spice it to my preference for guests.) That’s why keeping tabs on a good shaker bottle for your own augmentation comes in handy, and Defcon Sauces‘ Malum Allium spicy garlic powder is an excellent addition to roasted vegetables, particularly broccoli and Brussels sprouts. My beloved wife Caroline, who admits that she can’t handle much heat, has a love for Malum Allium, but also for the Feisty Fish Rub from Mom’s Gourmet. We go through a lot of spices (mostly because we eat a LOT of roasted vegetables these days), but we keep coming back to each of these, and we’ll probably have a more extensive list for 2021.
And for those who want to go past merely eating hot and want to grow hot, there’s really good news on that front, too. Specifically, while a lot of really good seed suppliers offer excellent pepper species and hybrids, you can’t go wrong with the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and its wide range of pepper seeds. Personal recommendation: my favorite variety from the Institute is its Numex Halloween: not only does the foliage go deep purple-black with sufficient sun, but the peppers go from black to orange as they ripen, and they’re now an essential part of my notorious goth salsa recipe. But don’t pay attention to me: go wild and try something that surprises you, because that range of seeds includes some doozies.
Well, that’s it for this week: things are going to get interesting, what with American Thanksgiving and all. Feel free to expand upon this list in the comments, too: half of the fun is in the sharing.