July is upon us, and out here in the big city on the Wet Coast the rain clouds have temporarily departed and the dog days of summer are lying in the shadow of our front porch, their tails swishing and their tongues hanging to the ground. It’s the time of year that a middle-aged gourmand’s fancy turns frequently to thoughts of capsicum – the active ingredient found in all kinds of spicy foods.
As people who have been raised in the hottest parts of the globe will attest, there is no more effective means of getting the sweat glands going and kick starting the body’s temperature control system than a good dose of this organic miracle chemical.
Think tandoori chicken-legs nestling on a paper plate beside a mound of artery-clogging potato salad, perhaps washed down by a good quality micro brewed beer, iced chai or a nearly-frozen mango lhassi to take the pain away. Picture a lush garden salad, chilies and poblanos and bell peppers glittering like exotic jewels, accompanied by a carafe of white wine. Imagine succulent barbecued lamb kebabs steeped in a marinade of beer, Worcestershire sauce and hot smoked paprika.
Best of all, to my mind, are succulent tiger prawns the size of small lobsters. Pan-fry them for a couple of minutes in a heady and pungent Monsoon Asian concoction of green Thai chilies, crushed cardamom, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon afloat in a half cup or so of white wine. Serve them, shells on, as an appetizer, or spooned over steamed white rice.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to hot-wire your barbecue or picnic food is with an assortment of tastebud-jangling dips and salsas, involving capsicum-laden ingredients such as chipotle peppers, cayenne, and curry powders. There are endless numbers of excellent recipes for these, from spice-loving hotspots as far flung as the Caribbean, Thailand, the American Southwest, Asia and Central and Southern Europe. Many of them can be whipped together in a matter of minutes, and will keep for days or nearly weeks in the fridge, depending on the ingredients.
One of the easiest ones I know of is to simply blend together a cup or so of sour cream with one or two canned, smoked chipotle peppers, depending on your pain threshold. This makes a terrific dip for all sorts of things, including quesadillas and tortilla chips. (For anyone who doesn’t know, chipotles are smoked jalapenos, dark red and with a pungent smoky flavour, not unlike a mesquite-fired barbecue.)
After that, it’s just a matter of loading up the picnic basket with some additional delicacies like cheeses, grapes, medjool dates and plenty of flat breads, and heading off to the location of your choice to find a place in the shade.