Peppers and chilies, the names of which are often interchanged for one another when labeled, come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as a wide ranging degree of flavor. When distinguishing between peppers and chilies, both yield varieties which can be quite spicy, but it is indeed the chilies that take the prize for the most intensely hot specimens.
Peppers are a member of the genus Piper, whereas chilies are of the Capsicum genus. Peppers, such as the most common “Bell” varieties, are usually more mild in flavor and/or sweet. Within the piper genus there are some relatively hot peppers that contain a higher degree of the chemical piperine, which gives them their kick.
Chilies, rather, contain an even more intense chemical property called capsaicin that, when concentrated at high enough levels, can deliver an almost burning sensation to the pallet.
Personally, I love peppers and chilies from both ends of the heat spectrum, and incorporate them into my meals on a nearly daily basis this time of year while in season. When going for the spicier varieties, however, my palette has a limit, usually those in the range of a jalapeño or Serrano. This week, I decided to kick it up a notch and grabbed a hearty bunch of Thai chili peppers. Popular across Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, they are commonly incorporated as such cuisines. About 4-5 times hotter than a jalapeño, I figured just a small amount would go a long way in producing an appropriate level of heat that was still enjoyable.
As a regular consumer of chili sauces, this week I prepared a sweet Thai chili garlic sauce. The balance of sweet and spicy is perfect to serve with tempura vegetables, spring rolls, or even a sauce for grilled chicken, pork or fish. To control the heat of the recipe, you can add half the amount of Thai chili and, or, remove the seeds and membrane within before chopping. Make sure to either wear gloves and thoroughly wash your hands after using, refraining from touching your face until the residual spice is no longer present.
Sweet Thai Chili Garlic Sauce
2 tablespoons Thai chili peppers, well minced
1 large garlic clove, well minced
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon corn starch plus 2 tablespoons water.
In a small pan over medium heat, add chilies, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and water. Stir regularly until the sugar is well dissolved. In a bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water, then slowly add to the chili sauce mixture, mixing until well incorporated. Simmer for 3-4 minutes until it thickens. Serve warm or refrigerate for later use.
Yield: Makes about 3/4 cups of sauce.