Despite its name, this vegetable is far from chilly. Known as Mother Nature's sting, chilli peppers are electrifyingly hot. And devious. Eating them will rev up your metabolism, heart rate, body temperature and mood for, erm, Barry White's greatest hits. Whoever thought a vegetable could be this exciting?
Legend tells us that the great Aztec emperor Montezuma necked a chilli-chocolate drink in preparation for visits to his lady friends. There could be something in that.
Chillies are also great for the January blues. The compound capsaicin releases happy endorphins into our bloodstream, easing stress and massaging our neurotransmitters. Think of it as sunshine for the veins. Capsaicin also distracts the chemical responsible for transmitting pain messages to the brain. Good advice for throbbing heads and squeaky limbs.
From red to black and from green to yellow, chillies come in every shape and size. All are replete with beta-carotene, iron, vitamin C and powerful antioxidants to strengthen our resilience against pesky bugs this winter. While supermarket versions are reasonably mild to suit our timid palates, be careful not to rub your eyes or any other tender area while chopping fresh chillies. In general, the smaller and more pointed chilli peppers are, the more lethal they'll be.
If you don't like setting your mouth alight, here are a few tips on keeping the sweating and swearing at bay. Never drink water, beer or wine to calm the fire in your mouth. This will only enhance the storm in your mouth. Take olive oil, egg yolk or something fatty to absorb its blaze. Greek yogurt is often used to help dilute a chilli's enthusiasm. Maybe ask for some on the side. And finally, be sure to wear industrial mascara to weather the floods of tears.
As soon as I met Rojo, I knew it was love. My chest swelled, my lips burned, and I began levitating at the table. He is from Moro restaurant, and works for Sam and Sam Clarke. Such is his popularity, he's rarely available. This is despite having a permanent fixture on Moro's menu.
So here it is. Moro's legendary Mojo Rojo, designed to do funny things to our thighs.
You will need:
1 large red pepper
6 large red chillies
1 slice sourdough bread, crustless and broken into crumbs
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh bay leaves, stalks removed (optional)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Pinch unrefined sea salt (optional)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Grill the red pepper and three of the red chillies until they are soft and blackened, then peel and deseed them. You could cheat by placing them in tinfoil over a hot barbecue flame. Once they are ready, peel and deseed them.
Deseed the remaining three chillies and finely chop their flesh. Add all the deseeded chillies to your food processor. Then add the sourdough breadcrumbs, four tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil, the bay leaves, if you are using them, the crushed garlic cloves, the lemon juice, the cumin, and a pinch of sea salt, if you are using it. Blend everything together, and then scoop it into a pottery dish. Stir in the remaining three tablespoons of olive oil and the smoked paprika.
You can thin the mixture down with a few tablespoons of water or lemon juice and a pinch of unrefined sea salt if you wish. The authentic recipe fries the bread in olive oil first before whizzing everything together. But obviously I'm not going to encourage that.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine