Season: Available all year
Forgive the pun, but the whole subject of chillies is a hotbed of confusion: there are so many varieties, and availability fluctuates from one variety to another. The only real guide is individual taste. I would avoid the fat, round, scorching Scotch bonnet pepper, unless you are a real hot-chilli lover. What I tend to do is buy the larger, fatter kind, which are usually not so fiercely hot, and if I want really hot, then the tiny Bird Eye chillies, used in Asian cooking, are the ones to go for because they are always reliably hot.
The other point to remember is that green is usually marginally hotter than red. There is a safety net, though: if you find you’re using fresh chillies and they haven’t given you quite enough heat, all you do is add a few drops of Tabasco to top up the fire.
How to prepare chillies: Very carefully. Why? Because the membrane and the seeds inside are the hottest part and can burn delicate skin. American cookbooks often advise using rubber gloves, but washing your hands with soap and water after handling should be okay. If your hands touch the delicate skin on your face or, worse, eyes, it can burn the skin. So slice the tops off, cut them in half lengthways, hold down the tip of each chilli half with your finger and, using a sharp knife, scrape away all the membrane and seeds and discard them.
After that, either slice the chilli, or chop it finely, then carefully wash your hands.
Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best: this one is also brilliant if you're eating cheaply as the ingredients are all very economical and you'll probably have them in the storecupboard already.
This, thankfully, is a Thai recipe that doesn't require all the speciality ingredients that are sometimes so elusive. The list of ingredients seems rather long, but it is made in moments and has a lovely fragrant flavour.
Black-eyed beans are the lovely nutty beans that are popular in recipes from the deep south of America and, with the addition of other vegetables, they make very good beancakes.
What are enchiladas? Well, they're Mexican wheat-flour pancakes that can be spread with some spicy salsa and stuffed with almost anything you have handy – in this case cheese – and then baked. An excellent light lunch dish served with a salad.
This dark, pungent curry paste makes a delightful alternative to dry, ground spices. I have included it in the recipes for Angel-hair Pasta with Thai Spiced Prawns and Thai Fish Cakes with Cucumber Dipping Sauce
Serve this hot on a cold winter's day with some buttery jacket potatoes or, if the weather is warm, it's lovely served cold with salads and chutney or pickles.
This is delicious served with cold meats or sausages and will keep indefinitely. Use bottles that have contained shop-bought ketchup or you can buy the old-fashioned type 'pop' bottles from good kitchen shops.
A spicy Peruvian dish with a wonderful and unusual walnut sauce, made simple with the help of a top-class prepared potato ingredient. Colourful and light, it makes a great supper or lunch dish for vegetarians.
This has decidedly Mexican overtones. It isn't too hot and spicy but the presence of the chilli does give it a nice kick, and the flavour and texture of chickpeas is perfect for soup.
The first time I ever used Tabasco (hot chilli sauce) was when I made my first guacamole. This spicy Mexican purée, made with fresh avocados, chillies and ripe tomatoes, is still a great favourite.