When I was 18 my family and I went to the Real Jerk Restaurant for dinner in The Beaches area of Toronto. I was told that the food was very spicy which got me worried. I am not able to handle spicy food so I did what I usually do, I ordered seafood hoping it would come in a mild cream sauce. It didn’t. The pain was excruciating. I could not eat another bite of my dinner and I swore off spicy foods forever. Who needs that?
I have always been sensitive to spice. When I would order something mild, it was always way too spicy. I have to specify, “no chilies” when I order pad thai because even one chili and I am in big trouble. For me, spice/heat in a restaurant makes a meal completely inedible.
A couple of years ago I took a cooking class at my community centre. We were making Mexican Chocolate Chicken and the chef wanted to add a jalapeno to the dish and I got upset. I told him if he did that, I would not be able to eat the meal. He listened to me and then calmly said, “For food to be complete, you have to have some heat. I’ll only put it a little, I promise, it’ll just be there in the background. Trust me, it won’t hurt.”
Oh crap, I thought. He does not realize just HOW sensitive I am but OK, what the hell, put it in and I will prove him wrong.
Well, I guess I am not as sensitive as I thought I was. It was not painful and I experienced what he described, that the light sensation I was feeling on my tongue did add depth to the dish. Depth that I was missing in my home cooked meals. I realized that if I make my own food with way less spice than most people use, but still make sure that it is present in the background, I can participate and eat foods I never dreamed possible.
At another cooking class (if you can call it that, just a guy cooking for us in a grocery store mumbling to himself) the chef took out a thai chili and I rolled my eyes. Oh no, he is going to put that whole thing in there isn’t he? I raised my hand and told him that I can handle some heat but not a lot. So he did something that I must admit was genius. He cut the chili in half, removed the seeds and ribs and let it steep in the dish. That way the heat was infused like tea instead of me chomping into a piece of the pepper and wishing I would die.
More and more I have come across research that says a little heat in the diet keeps us healthy and may actually help us heal. In fact, I keep reading that spicy foods may actually help relieve muscle pain! How exciting, this idea gives me hope and inspiration to bring some heat into my kitchen. I think of the long, cold winter I just survived, cold that burrowed into my muscles and bones. Suddenly the idea of replacing that cold with a little heat…really appeals to me.
When you make your own food, you control the flavours and in this case, the “spice” in particular. I really believe we can help our health by making our own food and it is not just about fruits and veggies (although they are super important).
Perhaps what it is we have been avoiding may hold a key to what can help us heal?