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Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke
Tags >> history

Scared Straight Turkey Tamales

Posted by: Lois Manno

Tagged in: recipe , new content , humor , history , fiery foods


Listen up, little dogs. All of you spoiled little chihuahuas, toy poodles, and terriers have had it too good for too long. Sitting at the screen door, barking at everyone, day in, day out, it's a poor choice for a life path. You're so lucky you don't have it like your ancestors did. Four hundred years ago, Mesoamerican people kept you little yappers to complement cooked veggies instead of handbags. Read more on the Burn! Blog here.

Popular Plates Fiery Foods CoverOn June 28th, my latest publication, entitled “Popular Plates: Fiery Foods” will hit all the major newsstands in the U.S., including Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Borders, Costco–all the big box stores.  The publisher, Source Interlink Media is printing 200,000 copies, which is by far the largest print run of any of my publications.  Essentially, this is a book in magazine format that traces the history of spicy foods from the first chile peppers in the Americas to how we cook with them today.  This bookazine makes a great gift for the chilehead in the family, or a friend who wants to get started eating the hot stuff.  There are 80 recipes from all over the world from basic to advanced, plus many photos and illustrations.  I certainly hope everyone enjoys it!


Rick Browne, Ph.B takes a look at Australia’s love affair with barbecue in “Baang-gaa to Barbies: Australia’s Barbecue Heritage,” excerpted from the May/June issue of Burn! Magazine.

 Group BBQ on a beach Down UnderLet me smash a common misconception about Australian barbecue: Down Under, they cook prawns —no one here “slips another shrimp on the Barbie.”

In fact, cooking shrimp, er, prawns on a barbecue was never all that popular. At least, not until a certain macho, crocodile-wrestlin’ movie star uttered the quote in a 1980s ad campaign to get Yanks to go Oz (that’s Australia, for those of you who can’t keep up).

Aussie barbecues back then usually consisted of “mystery bags,” or “snags” of various sorts—that’s sausages to you and me—which were cooked up on flat grills or hot plates. “Don’t fork the snags,” was the warning heard most often, as an inexperienced griller might puncture the snag with his or her fork and let all the juices leak out.

Like their U.S. counterparts, Aussies today are much more sophisticated when it comes to grilling. Today’s barbecue menu might feature such exotic fare as Malaysian spotted prawns marinated in Chinese hoisin and Japanese sake, dusted with lemon myrtle and drizzled with a honey-onion-macadamia nut sauce.

Aussies use their barbecue grills much more often than we Americans do. In fact, we’re third on the list of the world’s most avid barbecuers, after Australia and South Africa. Even the government participates by mandating free gas or electric barbecues in parks, beaches, and campsites. And if you come across the rare Barbie that’s not free, the twenty cents to operate is still a deal.

When it comes to backyard grilling, Australians prefer faster-cooking, uncovered flattop gas grills, as opposed to slower-cooking, covered charcoal grills. Recent legislation banning backyard fires in and around major cities has boosted the use of gas barbies, especially as devastating bush fires become more and more common.

Even boaters and yachtsmen take part in the barbecue craze, mounting stainless steel propane barbies on the aft decks of their vessels. Three-quarters of the yachts we saw on an afternoon cruise had barbecues mounted on the stern rails.

And when we consider Aussie barbie, let’s not forget that the native aboriginals where here first, about 40,000 years before the British Empire landed a boat full of convicts on the continent’s shores. In that time, the aborigines perfected “bush tucker”—the fruits, vegetables, and game harvested in the wild—and the best methods with which to cook it. That’s right, barbecue.

Read the full article, as well as Rick’s recommendations for the best restaurants Down Under in the May/June issue of Burn! Magazine, out now.

Chile Podcasts LogoSunbelt Shows, Inc., owner of the Fiery Foods & Barbecue SuperSite, has announced the launch of Dave DeWitt's Chile Podcasts, a weekly audio show that features interviews with the top leaders and characters in the fiery foods and barbecue industries.  The theme of the first series of three podcasts is "SuperHot" and features interviews with James Beck of EatMoreHeat.com, famous for his tortured consumption of the Apocalypse Burger and others; Dave Hirschkop of Dave's Gourmet, manufacturer of Dave's Insanity Sauce; and chemical engineer Marlin Bensinger, the world's foremost expert on capsaicin. The first three interviews have been recorded and are in post-production.

"These first Chile Podcasts give everyone a chance to listen to people they've only read about," said DeWitt, "and get an insider's view of what's going on behind the scenes in the world of superhot peppers and products."  Producing the Chile Podcasts is David Wolf of America Markets Media in Albuquerque, who said that the first one will be posted "very soon."  Illustrated transcripts of all the podcasts will also be posted.

From The Southwest Table 1

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: recipe , history , grilling , fiery foods

Cover of The Southwest TableEveryone is invited to our Cinco de Mayo Book Launch Demo and Signing.  I'll be cooking some spicy dishes on a Disc-It for sampling, and the restaurant will provide snacks, or you can order drinks and lunch.  Bookworks will be selling the books, and I'll personally dedicate them for you.  Assisting me will be my niece and food editor, Emily DeWitt-Cisneros. 5/5, 12 noon on the main patio at El Pinto Restaurant, 10500 4th Street, Albuquerque, NM 87114.  But if you can't make it, you can always buy the book here.

New Mexico's First Livestock

Maya Natural Sea Salt Harvest

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: tasty travel , science , manufacturing , history


Maya Natural Sea Salt HarvestRick Grice of Maya Natural Sea Salt just sent me a link to pics of his salt harvest, which apparently has been going on long before he was born!  Rick writes: "White Gold or Mayan Sea Salt has been the subject of numerous books and scholarly papers written about the trade routes of the ancient Mayans.  Some have estimated that 3 to 6 tons of sea salt per day had to be transported by canoe and on human backs into the interior to supply the Mayan people whose population then is estimated to have been greater than the population of the same region today. This sea salt was produced on both sides of Central America in what is now Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and even into Honduras and El Salvador. Recently discovered archeology sites (many now underwater) attest to the vastness of this ancient enterprise. Our FDA-registered operation is within walking distance of one of the Mayan sites."
View the rest of his harvest shots here. Mouse-over the pics to see the captions.

A Mayan "Christmas Feast": Peccary Tamales

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: recipe , holidays , history


Peccary Tamale BowlThree hundred and fifty years after the birth of Jesus Christ, the Mayas in Mexico and Guatemala had never heard of this revered person, but they still celebrated their holidays with tamales—lots of them. Recent discoveries in 2010 at the medium-sized Mayan city of El Zotz in Guatemala included a tamale bowl with the representation of the head of a peccary, also called a javelina. This is pretty clear evidence that the pig-like peccary's meat was probably contained within the maize dough of the tamales. According to other archaeological finds, the tamales were served topped with either a squash seed sauce (pipián) or a chile sauce much like we eat today.

Although peccary meat is available in markets all over South America, I could not find a Peccary or Javelinacommercial source for it in the U.S., so you will have to find a hunting guide and shoot one. During slaughtering the first thing to do is remove the musk gland at the end of the backbone or it will taint the meat. My friend Dave Jackson has been peccary hunting in the “bootheel” of southwestern New Mexico and says it's exciting and dangerous because herds of peccaries have attacked and killed humans before.

Tamales Awaiting the Sauce, by Chel BeesonThis recipe would be a close approximation of the Mayan tamales, with pork substituted for the peccary meat. People who have consumed peccary meat (I haven't, yet), say that it has a naturally smoky flavor, and it's been compared to pork, lamb, and veal. So, enjoy a uniquely American Mayan Christmas dinner and remember that early American cuisines like that of the Maya and Aztecs was more sophisticated than that of Europe at the same time.

Founding Foodies a Hit with Reviewers

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: history , books

Cover of The Founding FoodiesI'm pleased to note that my latest book, The Founding Foodies, is getting good reviews.  Here's a sampling:

“You've put together a wonderfully detailed and rollicking culinary tale. It's one I will look forward to sharing with friends. I love your excursions into the English figuring out what to eat, Valley Forge myths, the importance of the salt industry, and the importance of fishing in the new Republic. Cool stuff woven into a compelling narrative.” —Leni A. Sorensen, Ph.D., African-American Research Historian, Monticello

"This book wholly represents the culinary traditions and passions of important historical figures like Thomas Jefferson – a true scholar and gastronome. It is a fascinating tale of how our nation’s third president elegantly married French and American cookery. Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Foodies is sure to enlighten and entertain everyone from historians to home cooks."  —Walter Staib, Chef/Proprietor, City Tavern Restaurant, Philadelphia, and star and host of the PBS series, "A Taste of History"

"A deft combination of primary-source material, historical context, entertaining tidbits, and authentic recipes, this highly readable piece of popular history is sure to have wide appeal." —Neil Derksen, Library Journal

This would make a great Christmas present for your foodie friends, and you can order a copy here.

Sichuan peppers
Dried Sichuan peppers & husks

Sichuan pepper is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine, but you may not know the whole story behind this unique spice. If you’re a fan of Asian cuisine, there are a few things you should know about Sichuan peppers.

  1. Sichuan peppers (known in Chinese as hua jiao) aren’t related to chili peppers or black pepper. They’re actually the fruits of the prickly ash tree (Zanthoxylum piperitum)! To make things more confusing, they’ve been marketed as ”brown peppercorns”, "Szechwan pepper," "Chinese pepper," "Japanese pepper," "aniseed pepper," "Sprice pepper," "Chinese prickly-ash,"
    Sichuan Pepper Plant
    Sichuan pepper plant
    "Fagara," "sansho," "Nepal pepper," "Indonesian lemon pepper," and others.
  2. Sichuan peppers aren’t exactly “hot” in the way white pepper or chili pepperscan taste.Instead, along with a citrusy flavor, the tiny fruits cause a numbing,tingling sensation in the mouth. The active ingredient in Sichuan peppers is hydroxyl alpha sanshool (or “sanshool” for short). So, while capsaicincausesspiciness in chile peppers, and piperidine causes the hot, biting flavor ofblack and white peppercorns, sanshool causes a “pins and needles” sensation, as if you’ve stuck a nine-volt battery on your tongue! The Chinese have a word for this; they call it ma la, which literally means “numbing” and “spicy.”
  3. Up until the sixteenth century, Sichuan peppers had been the primary “spicy”ingredient in Asian cuisine. This changed after Christopher Columbus introduced the chili pepper to the Old World. Hot chili peppers and peppercorns spread rapidly across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and suddenly, there was a new hot spice in town.
  4. Sichuan pepper was actually banned in the United States the same year LSD was made
    Fresh green peppercorns
    Fresh green Sichuan peppers
    illegal. While the pepper didn’t have quite the reputation LSD had, the FDA banned imports of Sichuan peppers out of fears that it would infect American citrus groves with a rare citrus canker disease. The ban was lifted in 2005, and you can now find Sichuan peppers in markets across the country.
  5. The berries are good for more than just cooking. Some of the medicinal attributes of the berries include pain relief, weight loss, food retention, and especially toothache suppression. The North American prickly ash is known as the ‘Toothache Tree’ because the powdered bark was used as a toothache remedy and to heal wounds.

Want to try out the tongue-numbing berry yourself? Click here for recipes.

Learn more about the spice!

Spice Profile: Peppercorns by Dave DeWitt
The Tongue-Numbing "Flower Pepper" of Sichuan Province by Kimberly Dukes
Three Things You Didn't Know About Sichuan Peppers by Darren Lim

The Legend of St. Salsa

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: tasty travel , history


Ruins of the Basilica of St. SalsaOn the summit of the eastern hill, Koudiat Zarour, and about 300 metres beyond the ramparts, may be seen the remains of a large church, the most interesting monument in the place, the basilica in which was interred St. Salsa. Her parents were pagans, but Salsa had been baptized, and though only fourteen years of age, she was animated with the most enthusiastic faith. One day her parents took her, in spite of her reluctance, to a feast in honour of the brazen serpent. She protested fearlessly against the sacrifices and impure rejoicings which took place, and when the spectators had finished their rites and were sunk in a drunken sleep, she took the head of the serpent and cast it into the sea. She returned with the intention of throwing the body in also, but it made so much noise in falling that it awakened the sleeping populace, who rushed upon the girl, stoned her, pierced her with swords and arrows, and cast her body into the sea that it might be deprived of burial rites. The waves, however, carried it into the harbour, close to the vessel of a certain Saturninus, who had just arrived from Gaul; a tempest suddenly arose, and Saturninus, then asleep, had a vision that if he did not give burial to a body in the sea near his vessel, he would certainly perish. At first he paid no attention to this warning, but the gale increased, and as all hope of safety appeared gone, he leapt into the water, and his hand was miraculously guided to the girdle of the saint. He took the body in his arms, rose to the surface, and immediately the storm was succeeded by a perfect calm.

From: Sir Robert Lambert Playfair, Handbook for Travellers in Algeria and Tunis. London: J. Murray, 1895.

Editor's Note: This story took place in Tipasa, Algeria around 400 A.D. Today, in Tipasa, nothing remains of the basilica except ruins. In this case, “salsa” has nothing to do with chile peppers. In Latin, “salsa” is plural and means salted foods.

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