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Some like it hot: Bold recipes to spice up the kitchen

Mar 7th, 2014 | Category: Cooking

by Mary Ellen Carter

Citrus abounds in the grocery stores, pineapples are available, and rum is always handy. This means – cue the steel drums – let’s spice it up in the kitchen, break out rum cocktails and feel the warm trade winds – let’s eat like the islanders in the Caribbean.

Pique is a hot sauce in its simplest form: vinegar, hot peppers with optional spices to round out the flavor. PHOTO BY MARY ELLEN CARTER

Pique is a hot sauce in its simplest form: vinegar, hot peppers with optional spices to round out the flavor. PHOTO BY MARY ELLEN CARTER

With the strong Spanish influences followed by African culture and “peppered” by many other explorers who arrived on these tropical paradises all influenced the complex yet simple cuisine. It is the spice and pepper combinations that make it a stand out.

Peppery hot foods have been a part of the human diet for more than 8,000 years.

In general, hot, spicy foods are stimulants; they stimulate the circulation, raise body temperature and in turn raise serotonin and endorphin levels.

There is a lot of positive research about the health effects of peppery foods.


Pique Criolla

The unofficial hot sauce of Puerto Rico… most households and restaurants has their own version on their dining tables. A hot sauce in its simplest form:  vinegar, hot peppers with optional spices to round out the flavor. The ingredients are not blended but rather just allowed to macerate.

The advantage of making it yourself, along with the simplicity, is making it to the fiery heat level you choose.

When I tasted the habanero and jalapeno combo (as you see pictured), I lost my hearing in one ear. Ahem, I believe I will top it off with more vinegar.

Used sparingly, it brightens sautéed greens, eggs and perfect on French fries and other deep fried delicacies.


Spice Blends

Enough cannot be said about roasting and grinding your own spices (see sidebar below). You will enhance the flavors of your cooking tenfold.

The best place to buy your spices is the bulk food section of the market. Our Community Food Coop has a wonderful selection that is fresh and rotated quickly. Buy small amounts to guarantee freshness.

Warm the berries and seeds in a dry frying pan and then blend in a coffee grinder. (The coffee grinder should be dedicated solely for this purpose.)


Warm Island Spice Blend


1 tablespoon allspice berries

1 teaspoon black pepper corns

1 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 tablespoon paprika

¾ teaspoon grated nutmeg

¾ teaspoon cinnamon



Place the berries in a small pan and toast over medium heat until aromatic. Remove and transfer to a grinder, add the black pepper corns and crush. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend. Store in an airtight container for up to two months. Makes ¼ cup




I  cup apple cider vinegar

2 pineapple spears (using the core)

12 hot peppers

6 garlic cloves

12 black pepper corns

Pinch of kosher salt

1 bay leaf


Toasted cumin seeds




Drop the garlic, peppercorns, salt and bay leaf into a bottle.

Remove the stems from the bottle. Leave the seeds and membranes depending on how hot you want your pique.

Pour the vinegar over the top and set aside uncovered for two days. Then cover and store in refrigerator.


Pollo Parrilla


6 chicken thighs, boneless, skin removed



3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons vinegar

3 tablespoons rum

3 cloves garlic minced

2 -3 tablespoons spice blend*

Kosher salt

2 teaspoons brown sugar

Minced fresh chilies (the sky is the limit!)



Combine the ingredients and place in a baking pan. Place the chicken pieces into the marinade for about 3 hours. Place on heated barbecue and grill 4-6 inches from the flame for about 20 minutes turning about 3 times and brushing them with reserved marinade, until chicken is cooked through.

Serves 6


Grapefruit Jicama Avocado Salad

This is a delightfully fresh dish to accompany  the grilled chicken.



2 grapefruits, peeled and sectioned

2 avocados, peeled and sliced

1 jicama cut it into match sticks

3 green onions, chopped

1 bunch of spinach or watercress

½ cup cashew nuts



Zest of ½ grapefruit

Juice of ½ grapefruit

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste



Gently toss the grapefruit, avocado, jicama and green onions together with the dressing. Place the spinach or watercress in a salad bowl or on a serving platter. Top with the grapefruit.

Mary Ellen Carter is local food enthusiast committed to preserving food and culture based on the values of community and sustainability.  She is a strong advocate continuing to write and teach about the value of returning to the table to enjoy good seasonal  food.

Published in the March 2014 issue of Grow Northwest 

One Comment to “Some like it hot: Bold recipes to spice up the kitchen”

  1. Emma says:

    Hi! Awesome recipes! I’m looking forwards to trying out Pollo Parrilla on Saturday. I love cooking a nice chicken meal but it always turns out a little bland. ):

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