Bring the Heat!

It’s been hot, on days it hasn’t rained. It’s been blazing and I hear it will get hotter.

That, however, does not mean that we need to cool things down in the kitchen. Quite the opposite. Although it is not an exact science (perhaps something I picked up on my Insta and TikTok fyp), I hear that if you eat hot food and consume hot liquids, your body cools you down better. How else do you explain the fact that the people who eat some of the world’s hottest foods live in some of the hottest areas on the planet? Perhaps it’s something we need to look at and consider adopting.

In our food from around the world series, I thought it only makes sense, when focusing on the continent of Asia, to bring the heat. The best way to control the amount of heat in your food, without making everything inedible, is to resign the heat factor to a condiment – and I have the perfect one. Chilli oil.

Oils and powders have been used for millennia to add that extra zing to a dish, and this particular recipe literally goes with almost anything.

Drizzle it over a bowl of instant noodles or throw it into your stir fry and you have a winning dish. It truly is the star of the show.

I’m not one to dabble in really spicy food and so I remain modest in my application of spicy condiments – just enough to bring the buzz in the mouth and we are good. I’m not the “set your mouth of fire” type. Nope.

Which reminds me of one of my many travels when I found myself in Rwanda.

They have a chilli oil in East Africa called Akabanga, and I tell you, this stuff is from the pits of food hell. It is stored and sold in a drip-controlled container and one drop is all you need. It’s been two years and I still have my 100ml bottle of that stuff.

Ijooo! Absolute madness. Akabanga is concentrated chilli oil that has been produced with a mountain of bird’s eye chillies, chilli powder and more chopped hot peppers of different varieties. I wasn’t adequately warned.

Perhaps the owners of the first dining establishment I visited assumed that as a foodie I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. I very liberally and, dare I say, naively, placed this stuff all over my half roast chicken, vehemently complaining about how it doesn’t come out of the bottle properly, not knowing there is a reason.

It’s like with each drop, the chilli oil is asking you if you are prepared for this battle. Clearly it’s one you wouldn’t win. I lost badly. I took one bite of this sizzling chicken which had been grilled to perfection. To say I was in foodie heaven for all but 10 seconds would not describe the events that took place adequately.

I took another bite in this period. Then it hit me. What followed after was a battle between a man and himself. There was no room for ego and decency. My life was but coming to an end. I’ll spare you the vicious play by play but will just let you know I consumed more than two litres of milk and about the same of water, plus half a loaf of bread, trying to appease my poor humble palate.

Nothing worked.

As I shed stinging tears and was sweating from all parts of my body, I thought, in that moment, that I’d never taste, talk or breathe again. Lesson learnt, the hot way.

So, here is a hot recipe. I dare you to make it hotter.

Chilli Oil

5 tablespoons chilli powder

3 tbsp chilli flakes or crushed red pepper

1-2 teaspoons ground Sichuan pepper (add more if you want to burn the roof of your mouth)

1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp fine salt

1/2 tbsp sesame seeds

1 cup vegetable oil


Add your dry ingredients in a large ceramic or glass bowl and mix. Set aside.

Put your oil in a saucepan over a medium low heat until small bubbles start to appear and the oil gets and smells hot. Do not let the oil bubble aggressively.

Remove from the stove and pour over dry ingredients, mix everything together and let it cool completely.

Taste and add more salt or sugar to taste, or more chilli powder if required.

Use it on different Asian dishes or with everyday cooking.

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