The genus capsicum ignites the taste buds and excites the palate with myriad flavours. Crave gets the hots for chilli peppers.
Text by Johannes Pong, photos by Samantha Sin
Special thanks to Chicha, Da Ping Huo, Pantry Magic, Homeless and Socialito
Called pasilla (little raisin) in its dried form, the Mexican chile negro has a smoky, herbaceous, chocolatey flavour. Sold whole as a long, glossy purple pod or in powdered form, it’s used in black mole, salsas and adobo marinades. Sprinkle crushed fried pasillas on a simple tortilla soup for depth.
Anaheim or chile verde
These mild chillies have thick skin, a blocky stem tapering to a point and are usually bright, shiny green, although they come in all sorts of colours. Varying from pepper to pepper, they range from sweet to moderately hot. They are great stuffed as chillies rellenos, diced or puréed in sauces, soups and casseroles, or blistered on the grill.
Known as Asnaucho in Argentina, this short, round pepper is found in northern Peru and has a thicker skin of white and purple. This petite chilli packs a powerful punch, and has a rousing flavour that pairs well with fish and shellfish, and is a natural match for ceviche.
Thai cuisine uses 10 main types of chillies. The long phrik yai haeng chilli is similar in appearance, heat and flavour to the dried chillies of southern China and Sichuan. Phrik kiao is a generic term for unripe green Thai chillies that are roasted to make nam phrik, a savoury spicy dip from northern Thailand.
Bell peppers are the only capsicums that do not produce capsaicin, the chemical responsible for that burning sensation. Green peppers have a grassier taste, thicker skin and require a longer cooking time than the sweeter yellow and sweetest red peppers. They all hail from Mexico, but China is now the world’s largest producer.
Sweet, fruity, long, tapered and yellow, hence the name, the banana pepper is a popular antipasti, stuffed with prosciutto or Italian cheeses. They are fantastic fried, sautéed, roasted or raw in salads. These chillies are often pickled – as they retain their crunch – and sliced to garnish pizzas, sandwiches and Greek salads.
Also referred to as “chile meco” or “tipico”, chipotle is a greyish tan colour, looks alarmingly like a cigar butt and gives a distinct earthy spiciness to moles and casseroles. It’s the chipotle of choice in Mexico, while the rest of the world gets the cheaper chipotle morita (“little mulberry”), which resembles a wrinkled prune.
These orange pods turn bright yellow when cooked (amarillo means yellow), and taste like sunshine. In Bolivia, they’re dried and ground as a condiment. In Peru, the fresh chillies form part of a culinary trinity with red onion and garlic in salsas and salads, pastes and cremas that have distinct citrusy and subtle berry-like flavours.
Spanish for “rattle” after the noise made by the seeds in the hardened, plump pod, dried cascabels are deep red with smooth shiny skin and a distinct nutty flavour. They add heat and rich tannic and slightly smoky nuances to sauces, soups and stews. The skins do not dissolve, so remove them whole once the desired flavour is achieved.
The “Lima pepper” is one of the spiciest and most aromatic of the Andean peppers. Intensely hot when raw, it’s a fruity, floral flavour grenade that mellows out and releases an intriguing palette of tastes after cooking. Strong hints of citron make it unrivalled for grilled fish and ceviche.
bird’s eye chillies
Widely used in Keralan and Sri Lankan cuisine, these fierce little chillies are called phrik khi nu (rat-dropping chillies) in Thai, and are highly valued for their fruity taste and extreme spiciness. Both the unripe green and ripe red pods are featured extensively in Thai dishes, cooked in curries, raw in salads, or just eaten on the side.
denglong hai jiao
The Sichuan name hai jiao (“ocean pepper”) reveals this chilli’s exotic American origin. But their exhilarating pairing with the indigenous pepper is the soul of Sichuan cuisine. Together with the intensely floral and lip-tingling Sichuan peppercorn, these dried Chinese habaneros spice up stir-fries and put the heat into hotpots.