What are chillies?
Zapping the pain receptors in the mouth with a pleasure- and pain-inducing thrill, fiery, chillies are never far from reach in Bhutanese, Indian and Mexican kitchens. Many Australians have embraced the chilli as they have embraced new cuisines. Guacamole, with ripe tomatoes, avocadoes, garlic and zesty lime juice wouldn’t taste the same without the kick of spicy chillies.
Chillies have been part of the South American diet for thousands of years. Christopher Columbus brought back chilli seeds when he returned to Spain in 1493, and cultivated chillies spread throughout the world. Portuguese traders introduced chillies to the Indian subcontinent and Asia, where they are an important feature of the cuisines in these regions.
There are a number of different varieties of chilli available in Australia. These include the Bird’s eye (a small red chilli with a tapering end and a fiery kick), the large red Serrano (not as hot as the Bird’s eye), the green (cayenne) that is popular in Indian, Chinese and Indonesian cooking and the Sweet orange (also known as the Banana) chilli, which you can stuff.
Other varieties that are sometimes available are the jalapeño (which varies in the degree of heat) and the habañero, one of the hottest chillies in the world.
Why chillies are good to eat
- Chillies are an excellent source of vitamin C.
- They are also a good source of vitamins A and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- Chillies contain dietary fibre, folate and other minerals.
- Energy – 100 g of red chillies supplies about 170 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Chillies grow on bushes and the plant requires warm, stable temperatures to produce the best crop. The plant is easily damaged by strong wind, so windbreaks are sometimes necessary for protection.
Chillies have a long growing period and are ready to harvest nine to 11 weeks after planting. Picking the chillies from your plant encourages the growth of more flowers and, in turn, more chillies. Most chillies are green when they start growing and change colour as they ripen. You can pick chillies when they reach a good size, regardless of the colour.
Wear gloves when picking hot chillies to prevent your skin getting irritated from contact with the juice from the chillies.
When choosing fresh chillies, select those that have glossy, unblemished skin. Avoid chillies with dark or soft spots or those with wrinkled skin.
How to store and keep chillies
Store chillies in the crisper section of your fridge. Fresh chillies can also be frozen in small plastic bags. You can chop and use them in recipes while they are still frozen. Frozen chillies do not lose their heat.
String fresh chillies with a needle and thread and hang them to dry. The chillies will shrink as they dry and they will be hotter than when they were fresh.
How to use
- For a fiery sauce to accompany grilled fish or other seafood, blend coriander roots, garlic and chillies, add lime juice and fish sauce and stir in chopped coriander leafbefore serving.
- Make your own chilli oil – heat olive oil and add fresh chopped chillies, allow the mixture to cool and strain into a sterilised jar.
- Try pan-fried prawns with chillies and garlic, add a squeeze of lime juice and chopped coriander and then toss and serve with crusty, grilled bread.
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