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The Kitchen Coach

Dowsing a chile's flame

Rebecca Wood —

Chilies are the world's most highly consumed spice thanks — to a single gene, the fiery and to be respected, capsaicin. It's a lack — of this gene that keeps sweet peppers cool. And it's a high percentage — of this alkaloid that makes a habanero flame. While the fire-quotient — can range dramatically from one habanero to the next as from one chili — variety to another, there's a general guide for determining heat. A chili — with broad shoulders at the stem and rounded or box-like at the blossom — end is milder than one with narrow shoulders and a pointed end. On a chili — heat scale from mild to intolerable, jalapenos are a mid-range chili with — aji, Scotch bonnets and habaneros boasting the greatest heat.

Chilies may literally burn the skin, especially the eyes, — nose, lips, and even the gastro-intestinal tract. Nearly 90 percent of — their capsaisin is concentrated in the white, placental tissues to which — the seeds are attached. One way to moderate the flame, is to exclude or — include these membranes in your cooking.

But, consider the following instant. One bite into a chili — and your single desire is to douse the blaze. What do you reach for? Some — people say dairy soothes, some say bread or rice and others claim that — sweet is a chile antidote. To determine the most effective remedy, let's — examine capsaicin. It's a fast-acting vasodilator that - upon contact — - widens our blood vessels. Thus, ingest a smidgen of jalapeno and almost — instantly capsaisin is in the blood stream. Imagine holding a chunk of — carrot or bread in your mouth for a minute. Not much happens as few whole — foods are fast acting.

So, to find our remedy, let's consider slow-acting foods. — Fats and oil are the slowest foods to assimilate, second only to meat. — Additionally, oil quickly coats the mouth and thus retards chili absorption. — While we can't recall the fire that's already surging through our blood, — we can slow down the entry of more. The most effective flame tamer, therefore, — would be a gulp of oil. Or, a fatty, soft food such as cream cheese, yogurt, — refried beans, or guacamole because you can quickly swirl it around your — mouth to retard capsaisin uptake. If such foods aren't at hand then any — solid food, like bread or rice, will help but take longer to coat the — mouth. I'd pass on sugary foods as sugar is quickly absorbed.

However, if there's not a glug of oil nearby, don't despair. — Capsaisin dilates our blood vessels triggering an increase in blood circulation. — This causes a rise in body temperature. A quick temperature jump triggers — perspiration that cools us back down. So give it a minute, relief is moments — away.

Chicken Soup with Roasted Jalapeno Chiles

The fresh, wide-awake flavors and colors of this light — soup make it a stellar beginning to any meal. It's hot with a round, pleasing — aftertaste. For a moderately hot soup, use one jalapeno.

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Lay the jalapeno chiles on a medium-hot, ungreased griddle — or skillet and turn until the jalapenos are soft and blackened. Wrap in — a plastic or paper bag and set aside to steam for 10 minutes. Cut or break — off their stems, split in half lengthwise, then remove and discard the — veins and seeds. (If you've sensitive skin, wear rubber gloves when handling — the jalapeno.) Dice jalapenos and set aside.

Warm the sesame oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium — high heat. When warm, add the onion and saut? for about 10 minutes, or — until well browned and very sweet to the taste. Add and briefly saut? — the chicken breast, pepper, jalapenos and garlic. Add stock, sugar, soy — sauce, sea salt and pepper and bring to a boil. With your fingertips, — press the grated ginger to extract — teaspoon of ginger juice and add — juice (discard ginger pulp). Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. —

Stir in the limejuice, bean sprouts, and cilantro. Taste — and adjust the seasoning. Ladle into serving bowls. Serves 4.

Local author Rebecca Wood is a Personal Chef and offers — individual kitchen coaching. Her book, "The Splendid Grain," won both — Julia Child and James Beard Cookbook Awards. You may reach Rebecca or — visit her many recipes and articles, at www.rwood.com