Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


The surprise chile.

I got out of the shower, dried myself, ran a brush through my hair and unscrewed my contact lens case.

Carefully lifting the left lens out of its saline solution, I placed it on the tip of my right index finger and applied it to my still-sleepy left eye.

A blinding, burning pain seared through my eye as if I'd poured acid into it. I quickly withdrew the lens and plunged it back into its case. I looked in the mirror. My eye was red and the tears were welling.

Then I remembered: last night I sliced a chile pepper with my bare hands. (And a knife, of course.)

I found it on a little chile bush, obscured behind some other shrubs, in the garden. I had picked the other chiles (green) quite some time ago - they were hot, but not that hot, if you know what I mean.

So this one li'l pepper had stayed on the chile bush, unseen, for a couple of months. And, unlike its fellow chiles, it was bright fire-engine red.

So did I pick the others too early? Or this one too late? I didn't know.

In order to find out if it was hotter than its brothers and sisters, I decided to eat it. That's really the only way to find out.

It was about two inches long, maybe an inch wide at the top. A beautiful thing, really, with its little green stalk cap.

I sliced it finely, cleaned out most of the seeds using my fingers, and set it aside. I warmed up the rest of some leftover braised beef (see previous post), added some canned tomatoes to fill it out and then tossed in the sliced chile. It bubbled away for a while and then I served the finished ragu on some silky smooth tagliatelle egg noodles.

A little grated cheese over the top, and there's an easy Friday night dinner.

Ooomph! It was almost too hot to eat. But not quite! I managed to get through it!

With the help of a cold beer.


I researched chiles to find out what type my chile bush was. (Should have kept the little plastic label.)

There are, like, hundreds of different types and there is a kind of Beaufort or Richter Scale for heat intensity. I'm sure this one was near the top.

And the really hot ones leave little molecules of hot molten lava under your nails ready to attack your eyes should you touch them. Even the next day. So wear gloves. Or use the knife to get the seeds out. Or don't touch your eyes.

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