By Colleen Reynolds
On Wednesday of this week, it was International Hot & Spicy Food Day! Archaeological evidence suggests that people have been using hot spices in their recipes for over 6000 years. Did you know that the hottest chili pepper in the world is the Naga Jolokia? On average, one of these peppers is over 170 times spicier than a jalapeno pepper!
Hot foods can actually be very good for you because of their medicinal and antimicrobial properties. Garlic, chilies, onions, allspice, and oregano all kill bacteria and make food safer to consume. There is a lot of research now that says spicy food is actually good for your stomach. For example, hot chili peppers actually protect the stomach lining and might prevent the gastric damage associated with anti-inflamatory pain killers There is some evidence that hot chilies also reduce cardiovascular disease risk, help prevent diabetes and boost metabolism.
So, it might be a bit late, but feel free to celebrate International Hot & Spicy Food Day by checking out some awesome hot and spicy dishes at some of our local restaurants. Here are a few suggestions:
Swinger’s Grille Chef Cale Beecher is writing a new menu because he says everything is changing with the way people eat, based on shows like Top Chef on the Bravo Network and the Food Network. “People are moving out of their comfort zone,” he said. He uses red chili flake in the Sicilian Pesto Cavatappi and a couple of other dishes but by far the most popular dish that could be considered spicy is the Blackened Talapia. It is served as an amazing sandwich for lunch that I can’t pass up and for dinner with cajun shrimp and dirty rice.
Entourage is known for its Buffalo Chicken Eggrolls. These eggrolls are made with Monterey jack cheese, black beans chicken and spicy buffalo sauce tossed together in an eggroll skin drizzled with buffalo sauce and served with ranch. Yum. The bar Eleven, which opened in August on Front street in downtown Bloomington, also offers a version of these.
China Star’s Hunan Chicken is great and includes water chestnuts, broccoli, pea pods and carrots and I always ask for it extra spicy. It has a great kick but is still very edible. I also order it without rice which saves me carbs and calories.
Flat Top Grill’s Red Hot Chili Sauce is the hottest level served there and the more you eat your stir fry the hotter it gets. The heat seems to build. According to Manager Lynne Sherman, “It’s actually one of our most popular because it’s great to mix with other sauces. It’s perfect to use if you want to make something sweet and spicy. Lots of people mix it with Korean Barbeque and Plum sauce,” she said. Sherman adds, “If you use it on its own, it is really fiery.” There are other hot sauces, Indian Coconut Curry for example, but Sherman says other flavors in the mixture tame the heat.
Buffalo Wild Wings Manager Jackie Spelde says the restaurant's Blazin sauce is the hottest. It’s made with cayenne pepper, habanero chilis, jalepeno peppers and other spices. “It’s really, really hot! Some corporate stores do a challenge and if people can eat a dozen of them, they’ll give them the wings for free,” according to Spelde. “To be honest, wings with Blazin sauce don’t get ordered often here in Bloomington. When it is, it’s for a joke for the challenge. People want to see if they can eat them without crying.”
Schooner’s wings are offered in mild, wild, or fire which are the hottest. Owner Bob Groetken says about 25 percent of his customers are brave enough to wander into the fire. They do come with blue cheese ranch which helps take a little of the heat out but I’ve never been willing to take that leap.
The Rock Restaurant has a sandwich that features jalapenos that is amazing. It’s called The Challenger and includes chicken, onions, green peppers, jalapeno peppers and barbeque sauce. I skip the sauce because it just doesn’t need it.
Boo Boo’s Dawghouse’s Italian beef with giardiniera sauce is made with hot and mild peppers, soybean oil, celery, carrots, cauliflower, vinegar, olives, salt and other spices. The hot mixture is a must if you’re going to get the beef.
The Ozark House has an amazing Cajun Chicken Pasta that features Cajun broiled chicken breast with mushrooms, onions,red and green peppers, served over fettuccini with spicy tomato sauce and a big blanket of mozzarella. It has a kick but it’s certainly not too spicy for most. Owner Connie Weaver said they added the menu item four or five years ago because people requested something spicy. “The Cajun Pasta is very popular and everyone who orders it loves it.” It is a generous portion. I can make three meals out of it. They also offer Bacon-wrapped Cajun shrimp which gets several mentions on the website Yelp which allows restaurant patrons to write their own reviews.
Thai House is running a commercial on WJBC that it offers food that is flavorful but not necessarily spicy. WBNQ Morning Host Susan Saunders is the voice on the commercial and she is a regular customer. She does sometimes opt for a spicy dish there. “For spicy I love the Green Curry Noodle with Chicken and Panang Curry Beef. Coconut milk is in both which is high in fat but great for your metabolism and is one of those good fats.” She adds, “Thai basil and kaffir lime provide flavors not found in any other cuisine. Sweet and spicy with citrus aromas. These two will warm up your throat and stomach, but not burn your tongue because the heat of the Thai chilies is cooked in.” Finally, she offers this advice, “Order medium spicy or American spicy. ‘Thai hot’ will kick your body into a sweat and your butt into pain the next day when it comes out.”
Puran Indian Restaurant has a variety of spicy dishes and you can ask for the sauces with spice levels on a scale from one to five, with five being the hottest. One friend says she always gets her sauce at a level five which is hot but not unbearable. You can always crush the burn with one of their amazing breads such as Roti, Naan or Bhatura. Cardiologist Bill Novak likes the Lamb Saag and orders it with a level four on the hot scale. His wife and son Kathy and Any always order the Chicken Makhani. It's sometimes called butter chicken. They like it at a level five.
Desthil's Spicy Thai Shrimp is a favorite of Phillp Cade, who I featured in a November 8, 2012 post about ISU cultural dinners. The dish has capellini, shrimp, roasted red peppers, mint, scallions, coconut milk, red curry, basil, lemongrass, cilantro.
Speaking of the ISU cultural dinners, the next one is February 18 at 5 p.m. in the Brown Ballroom Bone Student Center. It will feature four-time Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross who battled back from injuries to compete in the 2012 Olympics. Richards-Ross is also part of the Livestrong campaign, a group set up to provide support in the fight against cancer. In addition, she has been campaigning against Rule 40, which restricts advertising activities of athletes and coaches surrounding the Olympics.
Tickets are available January 30 through February 13 (or until sold out) at Linkins and Watterson dining centers and must be purchased in advance.
Do you have a hot and spicy dish that is a favorite? Email me and I'll add it to this list!
Colleen can be reached at email@example.com
Additional candidates (submitted after initial post) by Flinger's Pizza Owner Patrick Fruin)
Flinger's Pizza's Buffalo Chicken Cheesebomb Buffalo Chicken Cheesebomb is one of our best sellers and an absolute must try for anyone who likes spicy dishes. This is made with our three cheese-blend, and topped with chipotle chicken, green pepper, red onion, jalapeños, and a dash of hot sauce. After baking at 555 degrees for eight minutes we top it with parmesan cheese, cut it into dipping strips and serve it with your choice of sauce on the side (spicy ranch and bleu cheese are recommended).