Red Hot: A Pepper Playlist

By: Andreana Chou

We may associate November with the flurry of Thanksgiving preparations, but did you know that November is also National Pepper Month? What does a “pepper” actually encapsulate? Is it the peppercorn, a member of the Piperaceae family, or the chili pepper, a member of the Capsicum genus? The internet seems to be in consensus that National Pepper Month is spotlighting the chili pepper variety. But we’ll take any excuse to highlight the peppers and spices of all kinds!

Follow us down a rabbit hole about the history of chiles, get some home cooking tips for a spicier kitchen, and discover an agricultural crossover between the chili and the tomato. These episodes are sure to add some heat to your palate even as the weather cools down. 

Cooking in Mexican from A to Z Episode 1: Getting to Know Mexican Green Chiles with Aarón and Zarela: In this very first episode of Cooking in Mexican from A to Z,  mother-son duo, Aarón Sánchez and Zarela Martínez discuss one of their favorite ingredients: chiles verdes, or green chiles. They dive into regionality, flavor principles, and food history. They share where the jalapeño gets its name and explain why you should never rinse a roasted chili. They also cover ways of growing, roasting, and drying chilis and suggest methods for eating them stuffed or in dips, soups, marmalade and much more.  

A Taste of the Past Episode 295: Hot on the Trail: Tracing Peppers of the Americas: Few ingredients have had greater influence on the cuisines and foodways of the world than peppers. Their diaspora spans millenia and has shaped the way generations of cooks create flavor. On this episode historian and three-time James Beard award winning author Maricel Presilla joins Linda and shares her work from her new book, Peppers of the Americas, in which she retraces the fascinating history of how Capsicum spread across the globe and found their way into cuisines of the world.

Meat and Three Episode 102: Feelin’ the Heat: How Spices Have Flavored Our World: Where would any regional food culture be without its unique blend of spices? Where would Italian food be without oregano, or Thai food without the bird’s eye chili? Although we can’t encapsulate the entirety of historic and modern spice trade and its influence in this episode, we consider four unique stories on the histories and implications of flavoring food. We explain the universal adoption and adoration for the chili pepper, and how its violent historic exchange still shrouds many regional foodways. We take a look at the economics of saffron and why it’s so expensive. Then we explore the perception of well-known flavor enhancer, MSG, and why its controversy may be unfounded. Finally, we examine the impetus for current farmer protests igniting in India and what that may mean for the future of global spice trade.  

In The Sauce Episode 138: Building Spicier Kitchens: Lisa Carson and Connie Wang are the Co-Founders of Occo, the pre-measured spice pods popping up in kitchens everywhere. Their products include a variety of chiles, cinnamons, herbs, peppers, and more. On this episode of ITS, Courtnie steps in for Ali and hears all about how Lisa and Connie think about in-house manufacturing, the importance of high-quality packaging, and how Occo is educating its consumers one recipe card at a time.

Fields Episode 3: “Phantom” and Spicy Tomatoes: Why does it matter what a specific kind of tomato is named—or who named it? Picking up the theme of seeds, history, representation, and changes to the land, Melissa and Wythe chat with tomato wizard Steph Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms on Long Island about the birth of the modern seed industry—and why we eat so few of so many varieties out there. She tells us about the origins of the seed industry and how New York City fits in, and we learn the stories behind some fascinating seed varieties. We also interview a bioengineer, Will Shindel, about a non-profit tomato-hacking project that he and some friends started and almost brought into the world: a spicy tomato! It turns out tomatoes and peppers are cousins, and both evolved the chemical pathway to produce spiciness; tomatoes just forgot how. We get into the nitty-gritty of what genetic modification is, a new method called CRISPR, and why Will’s group wouldn’t try to patent their spicy tomato.

Eat Your Words Episode 366: Red Hot Kitchen: Diana Kuan returns to the studio to talk about her latest cookbook, Red Hot Kitchen. Also the author of her first book, The Chinese Takeout Cookbook, Diana talks about why spicy sauces from Asia are great when made at home, and often surprisingly easy. She takes us through some of the classic condiments throughout the book, and how chili peppers got to Asia not so long ago. She also shares shortcut and vegetarian-friendly versions of some of the classics. Perfect for everyday use or your Lunar New Year feast, Asian sauces and the recipes in her book are endlessly adaptable.

Feast Yr Ears Episode 90: The King of the Bronx Hot Sauce: King Phojanakong started the Kuma Inn more than a decade ago and has since helped put Filipino food on the map and into the bellies of New Yorkers. The Bronx Hot Sauce is not only incredibly delicious, it's the best hot sauce company in the world (IMHO) for the great work it does supporting GrowNYC and the community gardens and gardeners of the Bronx. Tune in to hear Harry and King discuss everything from Filipino ingredients to getting spicy in the city's northernmost borough. 

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