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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Inspiring lifestyles

Discovering the delights of wild food

Mushroom growing in a forest
Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

By Juliette Bryant, nutritional consultant and healer.

Many of the plants we think of as weeds have been used for thousands of years as both food and medicine. It is not necessary to go too far back in history to a time before online shopping, supermarkets or even the village store when knowing what could be eaten from the local environment was simply a matter of survival.

Farming is estimated to have first emerged in Britain around 6,000 years ago. Long before that, people hunted and gathered their food. Although all too often the few people in the world who still maintain this kind of lifestyle are considered primitive, the question is, are they really? Not only are they generally members of sophisticated cultures, but they often only need to work as little as three hours a day to satisfy their physical needs.

On Mother’s Day this year, I was given a wonderful book by Ray Mears called ‘Wild Food’. Through his television programmes and courses, Ray has done much to demonstrate the value of natural resources, honour the indigenous groups that keep them alive and generally help reconnect people to the earth.

After asking the question ‘what plants did our hunter gathering ancestors eat?” he brought in leading archeo-botanist, Professor Gordon Hillman, to answer. They spent time with the aboriginal people of Australia in order to learn the old ways that are still practiced today. What they discovered was a highly-developed awareness of the local environment – something that we in the West have lost largely.

While it may seen very convenient to have other people provide for all our food needs, in doing so we miss out on valuable medicinal food sources that can be found in our locale. There is even an argument that local food is best for us, not just due to food miles and freshness issues, but because the plants that grow near us may be most suited to our constitution and heal us in the most effective way.

The mystical series of books ‘Anastasia’, which is set in Siberia, considers the inherent power of wild foods – they have developed naturally over millions of years and are so tough they can survive almost anything humans throw at them, always returning to colonise the land no matter what.

juliette foraging for wild garlic
Juliette Bryant foraging for wild garlic (Giles Bryant)

Food for free

But it was the publication of Richard Mabey’s iconic book ‘Food For Free’  in 1972 that initially started a resurgence in eating wild foods. Now there are foraging courses all across the UK, including some good local ones in East Anglia. Such knowledge is not only beneficial for our health. It is also good for our pocket too as we can use foraged food to supplement the paid-for goods in our larder.

Unsurprisingly lots of businesses are likewise getting in on the act by selling foraged seaweed such as samphire as well as local mushrooms. The small Suffolk town of Sudbury even has a pop-up restaurant called Shillingford’s, which is located at The Quay performing arts theatre and specialises in wild food.

While there is something primal about collecting your own food, there are also massive potential health benefits from a medicinal point of view in eating a wider range of foods. Archeologists believe that pre-agricultural humans may have eaten between 200–1,000 different plants species over the course of a year. But today, a huge 90% of cultivated foods come from just 20 plants.

Having a more diverse diet though means we consume a wider range of tiny phyto-nutritients, the healing qualities of which are being discovered more and more each day.

While out foraging, however, it is important to bear a few things in mind:

  • It is against the law to uproot a wild plant, however common, without the landowner’s permission;
  • Only pick specimens that are abundant and never strip a plant completely of its leaves, fruit or berries, or take more than you need;
  • Beware of eating anything that may have been contaminated;
  • Never eat something if you are not completely sure of what it is, or how to cook it if it cannot be eaten raw, as some wild plants can be deadly.

Here is a quick and easy recipe that can be made from some of the wild foods growing all around us:

Wild garlic & chickweed hummus

1 tin chickpeas

2 tbs tahini

juice of 1 lemon

4 tbs olive oil

1 tsp good salt

small handful of chickweed

small handful of wild garlic leaves

3 tbs water

½ tsp paprika

Blend together well in a food processor, adding a dash more water if required. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika. This is delicious served with baked potatoes and salad.

JulietteBryant

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.