THE SCOOP: Make the most of a spicy experience

  • Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 5:07 p.m.
Pineapple Cream Cheese Stuffed Jalapenos
Pineapple Cream Cheese Stuffed Jalapenos

Jalapenos. These small, fiery green peppers pack a flavor punch and throw in some great nutrients as well. You've probably eaten them in salsa but there are so many other great ways to enjoy their spicy flavor.

About the jalapeno

You've probably heard about capsaicin. It is the colorless, flavorless, odorless compound in peppers that give them their signature heat. Fiery habaneros have a lot, jalapenos have some and bell peppers have none.

Capsaicin is likely an adaptation by peppers to keep animals from eating them. These peppers produce a similar response in humans. When the capsaicin hits the nerve cells on the tongue, pain receptors send a message to the brain. However with continued exposure, the nerve cells become desensitized. Hot peppers actually cause the release of endorphins which is why eating fiery peppers actually becomes a pleasant experience with continued exposure.

When choosing and preparing jalapenos, here are some suggestions to keep in mind. Fresh jalapenos should be bright to dark green in color and have a firm texture. The flesh tends to get wrinkled and shrivel if the peppers have been in the store too long.

It is a good idea to always wear gloves when working with jalapenos. The capsaicin can cause a burning sensation on your fingertips if you handle enough peppers. Also, even after repeated hand washing, capsaicin remains on your fingers and can cause eye and skin irritation.

If you want to minimize the heat in your jalapenos, try this trick. Slice the jalapenos in half lengthwise and remove the seeds plus as much of the membrane as possible. A melon baller or small metal measuring spoon is handy for scooping out the seeds and membrane. Next, soak your peppers in cold water for 30 minutes or more. You will be left with flavorful peppers but less heat. This is especially helpful when preparing appetizers where the entire pepper will be consumed in one or two bites!

Do you have a topic you'd like reading about? Would you like to share your favorite jalapeno recipe? Email chef Karen at karen@letkarencook.com or comment at Everyday Gourmet Aiken on Facebook and your suggestion may be featured in her next article!

Karen Tempel, an aspiring chef since she could reach the countertops, has been delighting friends and family with tempting treats for most of her life. She is the owner of Everyday Gourmet, a custom caterer in the Aiken area. Visit her website at www.LetKarenCook.com or email her at Karen@LetKarenCook.com.

Pineapple Cream Cheese Stuffed Jalapenos

I've made a lot of friends with these over the years!

12 jalapenos

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained

6 slices bacon, cut in half

Cut jalapenos in half and remove seeds and membranes (wear gloves!). Place jalapenos in bowl and cover with cold water. Allow to soak for 30 minutes or more. Drain.

Combine cream cheese and pineapple. Stuff each jalapeno half with approximately 1 teaspoon cream cheese mixture. Wrap with one half slice bacon and secure with a toothpick. These can be made up to this point one day in advance and refrigerated.

Place jalapenos in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 20 minutes or until bacon is crisp. Remove to platter to serve. Makes 24 appetizers.

Chipotle Deviled Eggs

12 hard boiled eggs, peeled

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos, finely chopped

2 tablespoons chipotle chile in adobo, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise and carefully remove the yolks. Press the yolks through a fine-mesh sieve (or carefully mash) into a mixing bowl. Add the mayonnaise, jalapenos, chipotle, chili powder, and salt to taste. Stir to blend well. Spoon (or pipe with a pastry bag) the mixture into the egg whites. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour. Sprinkle with the paprika just before serving. (If the paprika is added too early it will stain the eggs. Makes 24.

Cantaloupe Strawberry Salad

A refreshing salad with an unusual combination of ingredients

2 cups cantaloupe, cubed

2 cups fresh strawberries, halved

1 cup cucumber, seeded and thinly sliced

1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon jalapeno, seeded and minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the cantaloupe through mint in a large bowl, set aside. In another bowl, make the vinaigrette by combining the lime juice through jalapeno. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over the fruit and toss to coat. For best flavor, this salad is best served at room temperature. Serves 8-10.

Do you have a topic you'd like reading about? Would you like to share your favorite jalapeno recipe? Email chef Karen at karen@letkarencook.com or comment at Everyday Gourmet Aiken on Facebook and your suggestion may be featured in her next article!

Karen Tempel, an aspiring chef since she could reach the countertops, has been delighting friends and family with tempting treats for most of her life. She is the owner of Everyday Gourmet, a custom caterer in the Aiken area. Visit her website at www.LetKarenCook.com or email her at Karen@LetKarenCook.com.

Jalapeno facts

• The jalapeno is a medium-sized chili pepper, approximately 2-3 inches long. It is normally picked and consumed while still green but if allowed to fully ripen it turns crimson red.

• Jalapenos have 2,500-10,000 Scoville heat units.

• You can find more about Scoville heat units for your favorite peppers here: http://www.eatmorechiles.com/Scoville_Heat.html

• The heat, caused by capsaicin, is concentrated in the membrane surrounding the seeds.

• A chipotle is a smoke-dried jalapeno. The jalapenos are left on the plant and ripen to a bright red color and dry. They are then harvested and smoked.

• Adobo is an blend of vinegar, paprika, oregano, salt and garlic. Chipotle chiles are often sold in adobo sauce.

• Chipotles have a similar Scoville heat rating to jalapenos.

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