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What can I use instead of chillies? | Kitchen Aide

Chillies provide not only heat, but also sweetness, smokiness or sourness to your cooking unsurprisingly, there are alternative sources


Im frustrated by how many savoury recipes in Feast contain chilli the first seven in the 8 June issue alone. Im intolerant to chilli, so what can I use instead?

Glenis, Canterbury

Lets haul the culprits up in front of the whole class, ask them to explain themselves and see if they can come up with a solution by way of penance. First on the naughty step is Yotam Ottolenghi, whose fusion-themed 8 June column was a tad chilli-heavy, what with spiced caponata with silken tofu, cabbage with ginger cream and chilli oil, and saffron pasta with chipotle shallots and pickled chillies. Were big chilli fans in the test kitchen, he admits, and undeniably that comes through in our food. Chillies vary hugely in heat and flavour, however: Mild ones such as ancho add sweet, subtle notes, while robust ones like chipotle offer intense, smoky flavours. We use chilli to enhance a dish, adding complexity when called for and heat only when needed.

That doesnt mean his recipes are no-go areas for those with an aversion or intolerance. If heats not your thing, its fine just to ditch them. Or try red bell pepper flakes instead of sweet or mild chilli, and smoked paprika to replace smokier chillies.

Meera Sodha, whose recipe that week was a sweet potato pasta bake featuring half a teaspoon of Kashmiri chilli powder, agrees that different chillies perform different functions: A birds-eye chilli might be used to balance sweetness or sourness, while fresh chilli can cut through fat or build warmth. Heat is not chillies only role, which I think is why they are so loved by food writers and many readers alike.

Which is not to say there is no sympathy for the chilli-averse. Chilli is now a central part of how we cook and getting harder to avoid, says Anna Jones. I have one friend who puts it on everything, and thats not uncommon: a lot of people crave big flavours from every meal they eat. She herself is a fan of gentler flavours, even though her courgette column in the week in question featured chilli in both recipes. At home, I often cook without chilli even if a recipe calls for it. Ill just use another spice or herb instead. It might not taste the same, but its just as good.

As far as substitutes go, first work out what purpose the chilli has in a dish and take it from there. If its smokiness, Sodha says, try smoked garlic or smoked salt instead; if freshness, mint or lemon. Or just leave it out: I cook mostly Indian food, but if someones allergic or intolerant, I simply dont use chilli, with no great loss to flavour.

Black pepper, used lavishly, has a similar spicy effect, says Thomasina Miers, who that same week made pasta with peas, prawns and chilli: Take cacio e pepe pasta: that draws on peppers hot, floral characteristics to add sparks of interest to an otherwise creamy dish. You can add zing in other ways, as well, with acidity being an especially favourite tool in professional kitchens: Look how a dish is transformed by a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime in the final moments, Miers says, or how a dash of vinegar can lift a sauce.

Salt is essential, too (I know, I know, its not good for us in excess, but we actually do need some in our diet). But it pays to season repeatedly, Miers says: First at the start, while the onions are sweating or the veg roasting, or when you take meat out of the fridge to come up to room temperature salt brings out a foods natural flavours. Repeat as youre cooking, tasting as you go, and deliver a final dose before taking it to the table. And introduce savoury (or umami) notes with miso, parmesan, anchovies or yeast extract.

Last but not least, Miers relies on fresh herbs massive great bundles of the things: They add wonderful accents and nuances of flavour. But forget those measly 30g supermarket packs that cost nearly a quid a pop head to a market or Middle Eastern or Asian specialist, and you can pick up a bunch the size of your face for about the same price, if not cheaper. And it wont come wrapped in plastic, either.

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