The package label read: “Popular in Northeast India. Used in sauces, enjoyed raw AND used as elephant repellant…” Elephant repellant?!! This little thing? … hmmm sounds like fun, no? Proceed at your own risk.
I’m writing about the Bhut Jolokia/Naga Jolokia Ghost Chilies (Bhut=Ghost, Naga=Cobra, Jolokia=Chile) Perhaps you’re familiar with them? No? I bet your mother wasn’t either or she would have cautioned you about them or turned you on to them, which ever the case may be. Mine didn’t know about them nor demonstrated any propensity for spicy foods.
I did however. I’ve always liked a certain bite and occasionally crave something hot and spicey.
In the past few years I’ve noticed that Habanero peppers are becoming more mainstream in availability and that is something I welcome wholeheartedly. The long red Hungarian peppers, or the thin red Thai chillies certainly have their place in fiery recipes as do other varieties. I am no expert on this nor do I profess deep knowledge on the subject, but I know that I like hot stuff. And that that like can lead to interesting experiences.
I’d been playing around with Habanero peppers for the past couple of years and then saw something that made me sweat … It was on that tube website on the internets, you know, the one that shows people doing things that people will do. Some informative, some entertaining, some silly, but for the most part just plain stupid stuff that gets a chuckle or the same reaction as driving past an accident scene, you just can’t look away. I saw a couple of guys ‘testing’ hot sauces and a guy named Dave apparently has some pretty gourmet recipes he sells in bottles. Insane is one way of describing them and HOT they are. I know. I bought a bottle and lived to say I emptied it onto foods I eat.
(My cheeks are sweating just a little writing this and I’ve not even ingested any peppers today; could be from the mini photo shoot I just did prior to scribbling these lines)
Well, it is one thing to watch someone taste, wait, suffer, describe, suffer some more, utter more descriptions of the hell happening within … funnier still to watch the utterly stupid persons who in a pique of macho munch down on one of these babies as though it were the accustomed Jalapeno from the jar. The fun starts there … for the viewer, not so much fun for the dolt as there is no off switch to the experience. Perhaps hindsight helps with that after the learning has been endured.
Well, long story shortened. While at a local market I stumbled across this bag of these bad boys and I could not resist, how could I? Soon they were safely inside my satchel and I on my way home.
Now you probably know that the heat of chillies is rated in Scoville units. For example a chilli with a rating of 100 requires a dilution of 100:1 before the heat becomes undetectable (see scale in link above for examples of pepper ratings).
Habaneros come in around 200,000 on that scale and the label on my package proclaimed these chillies at a frighteningly high scale value of 1.000.000 (that’s one million)! Also on the label was the warning to use them like any other chilies but to be very very careful. Ok. Oh, and eye contact IS dangerous and where possible all skin contact is to be avoided. Ok.
I kind of knew that last part from experience with other pepper varieties, having absentmindedly touched my eyes (only a couple of times) after handling such foods. One learns quickly, hehe.
My reason for writing this today … recent experience.
Well I was building one of my favorite winter soups, something with lots of red beets and other root vegetables and I wanted to spice it up a bit. So I threw in a mid sized Bhut chilli; and waited. Then I tasted and at the halfway point of the cooking process I found that the flavor was not too hot, had a pleasant bite and worked well with the other ingredients. Then I tossed another, slightly larger chilli into the pot; two thirds the size of my thumb (I have large thumbs). I continued to taste and was pleased with the results, the flavors blended wonderfully and when all was ready, the eating a lovely experience. Hot but not stupid crazy, with just enough heat to warm the body through and wet the hair on the back of my head. I was liking it, a lot. So I ate another bowl.
Later on, walking through the kitchen I looked into my cast iron enameled slow cook pot and there it was: a slightly less shriveled chilli. Just lying there among the remaining soup ingredients. I was going to bag the rest and freeze it, which I promptly did but that pepper got the better of me. I wondered what it would like to eat a part of it now, after the cooking process. I spooned it out of the pot, roughly severed it in half with a spoon and popped it into my mouth and chewed. Yup, it still had heat, lots of heat but I was thinking it wasn’t so bad and a minute or so after that I popped the other half into my mouth as well. This is where things got interesting. If one is good, two is not always twice as good and I was about to be learned on the later.
The heat came on, my hair wicking sweat, my face becoming sweaty and my mouth … well I was trying to breath around the heat (I don’t drink milk and had none in the fridge). Then my mouth began to water and I was thinking that this was a serious rush, not something to trifle with, but manageable. I’d also read on the label that these chilies also were used to treat stomach ailments. Ok, that’s good to know. My stomach was fine. Then in a matter of minutes it was not. It felt uncomfortable, very uncomfortable as a fact and when my mouth began to water more profusely, you know like just before you stomach wants to toss it’s content right back out of your mouth … I knew that perhaps I had underestimated the power of these dried vegetables. And throwing up something that hot an spicy was not something I wanted to do at all. That would have been even more unpleasant I think. Lucky for me that didn’t happen and I resorted to sweet peppermint tea, mostly for the psychological effect than any real easing of the near pain of the heat.
I had been learned and two hours after eating the entire pepper, my stomach settled down again with no ill effects after the fact.
Now I know there is/was another pepper in that soup pot. And I know that I bagged the rest of the soup and froze it. I just don’t know which bag that thing is in.
And I know that I might perhaps eat that one too when I find it in a simmering pot of lovely winter beet soup.
You have been warned.