Inspiring lifestyles

Chilli: Finding hot ways to spice up your life

Autumn Fog

By Juliette Bryant, nutritional consultant

As the trees shed their leaves and the temperature drops, it is the perfect time to bring the firewood in and enjoy the dark nights from the comfort of your hearth. It is also a good time to wrap up warm and go outside for a bracing walk. As my German friends tell me: “There is no bad weather – only bad clothing!”

Nonetheless, keeping warm is a real concern for many people. With the seemingly ever-rising cost of energy, it is not cheap to heat your house once winter sets in. Austerity, budget cuts and other difficulties in people’s lives have seen homelessness rates rocket, which only makes me appreciate the roof over my family’s head all the more.

On top of heating and wearing good clothing, however, there is another way to keep warm, and that is through food. Yes, it is true: we can all have an impact on our body’s internal heating system based on the types of foods we eat.

Think about it for a moment: Do you eat lots of cucumber when it is cold? No, because presumably you do not want to be as ‘cool as a cucumber’. Like melons, cucumbers have a high water content, inducing a calming, almost sedative effect on the body.

But what about a hot chilli? How does that make you feel? Just thinking about it warms you up and that is before you put one anywhere near your mouth. In fact, waiters in Indian restaurants generally ask ‘how hot you would like your curry?’ when what they really mean is ‘how much chilli do you want in the dish?’

Chilli is an amazing plant. There are literally hundreds of varieties from large, mild ones to small but potent scotch bonnets and blow-your-head-off ghost chillies.

Their heat comes from the compound capsaicin, which has a very positive medicinal effect. It stimulates digestion, releases endorphins and acts as a natural painkiller. It also has antibacterial and anti-carcinogenic properties, can kill parasites and helps lower LDL cholesterol. Chillies are likewise high in vitamin C and collagen, both of which help to strengthen blood and bones.

Red Chilli Peppers

A chilli history

What is interesting though is that, although chillies are one of the spices most associated with Indian cuisine, the plant itself does not originate from there. Chillies are, in fact, originally from Mexico and were brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus.

The Portuguese then took the plant to India during their trade with, and occupation of, Goa, and the rest, as they say, is history. India embraced it as an accompaniment to the country’s already established warming spices such as black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric.

The British occupation, meanwhile, introduced the Raj to the delights of curry – it is said the British used this complex mixture of local spices to disguise the stench of rotting meat that they were unable to keep from going off in the Indian heat (yuck).

But following the collapse of its Empire, Britain started welcoming immigrants from a range of Commonwealth countries, including India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. As a result, traditional dishes, such as vindaloo and jalfrezi, as well fusion cuisine, such as baltis and tikka masala, now rank among the nation’s favourite food.

As for growing chillies, in India, I have seen them developing happily in forest gardens. The tree canopy keeps excessive sunlight off the plants and the humidity at ground level provides moisture.

In not-so-sunny Suffolk, we also grow them successfully at the back of our greenhouse in a spot that is warm, sunny and moist. Some people likewise nurture them in conservatories and on windowsills.

Chilli plants like a fair amount of nutrients though, so we created our own liquid fertiliser blend using a mix of comfrey, nettle, seaweed, manure, urine and mineral rock dust. While it may smell pretty bad, it certainly works as this year we have had the best crop ever.

So here is a recipe for my home-grown chilli chutney, which you can use to accompany stir fries, curries or even sandwiches. The combination of red-hot chillies, sweet apples and dried mulberries truly is a taste sensation:

Homemade chutney

Super chilli chutney

1/2 cup of dried mulberries

2 chillies

2 apples

3 dates

10 cherry tomatoes

3 tbs apple cider vinegar

4 tbs water

1 tsp sea salt

2 tbs coconut sugar

Finely chop all the ingredients and place them in a pan. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When cooked, pot the chutney into a clean jar.

Juliette Bryant

Juliette Bryant is an author, nutritional consultant, superfood chef and presenter who runs courses, talks, workshops and retreats around the world. Her passion is helping people to thrive by showing them how to make delicious and healthy food. Juliette runs a busy practice providing nutritional consultations to individuals and businesses worldwide.

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