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Spices turn up the heat

Your food and drinks can warm you during the cold winter.Recipes and local business owners have hot tips.

There’s no better way to warm up during these dreary winter months than to enjoy a hot drink or some food with an extra level of zing.

We checked in with the owners of several area spice shops to find out how to add some heat to the menu, and we also pulled recipes from two cookbooks: “Winter Cocktails” by Maria Del Mar Sacasa, a recent 160-page book dedicated to alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks alike, and “The Ultimate Hot & Spicy Red Hot Cookbook” by Jenni Fleetwood, a veritable tome covering homemade spice blends, appetizers, soups, drinks and even desserts.

It seems the hottest spice you’ll find in this region is ghost pepper.

Miami Valley Spice Traders in Centerville sells ghost pepper as a powder or a salt, while Spice Paradise in Dayton sells both dried ghost peppers and ghost pepper flakes.

Miami Valley Spice Traders owner Brian Rayburn suggests using ghost pepper salt on corn, chicken, or roast vegetables such as cauliflower.

“It has a wonderful fruity, smoky flavor despite the heat,” he said, suggesting customers “give it a little finger sprinkle” over dishes they want to perk up.

Ulrike Massey, owner of Spice Paradise, added that she also makes her own wet and dry harissa as well as za’atar spice blends.

She discovered one of her favorite uses of ghost pepper at Thanksgiving, when she mixed it into homemade cranberry sauce and enjoyed it on leftover turkey sandwiches. She has also marinated turkey breast in harissa and then prepared it in a smoker.

Bart Dolbeer, owner of the Spice Rack & Bulk Foods in West Milton, says he has avoided stocking ghost peppers because they’re so hot that his employees would need special gloves and masks just to handle them. But he does sell the next-hottest pepper, red savina habanero, in flake form.

“I have a customer on a Jenny Craig diet who doesn’t like the food, so she sprinkles it on everything to spice it up,” he said. Dolbeer also carries wasabi-coated snacks like peanuts and peas as well as habanero-jalapeno cheddar that melts well to make chip dip, he said.

Patty Purdin, owner of No Common Scents, which formerly was a Yellow Springs shop but now operates as a home-based business, sells a blend she calls “chicken spice,” a combination of hot chili powder and hot curry powder. “I put that in with some fried potatoes and onions and it just pops,” she said, noting she also likes it on fish and hamburgers despite the “chicken” name. She also sells a hot chili powder blend that works well in chili and refried beans, plus dried habanero chilies.

So how does she use those habaneros?

“I don’t,” she said. “But my brother says he puts them in chili while it cooks and then pulls them back out” before serving. “You would use it very sparingly, I would think.”


All-purpose flour may be substituted for the chickpea flour, and bay leaves for curry leaves, but the flavor and consistency will be altered. Bay leaves may be substituted for curry leaves, but again, this will result in a different flavor. If you desire extra-creamy soup, use Greek yogurt in place of regular.

Scant 2 cups plain yogurt, beaten

4 tablespoons chickpea flour (all-purpose flour may be substituted, but flavor and consistency will be altered)

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

Salt, to taste

2-3 green chilies, finely chopped

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 whole dried red chilies

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3-4 curry leaves (bay leaves may be substituted if necessary)

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2-inch piece of fresh root ginger, crushed

Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, to garnish

Mix together the yogurt, chickpea flour, chili powder, turmeric and salt and strain them into a pan. Add the green chilies and cook gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Be careful not to let the soup boil over.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the remaining spices, crushed garlic and fresh ginger until the dried chilies turn black.

Pour the oil and the spices over the yogurt soup, remove the pan from the heat, cover and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Mix well and gently reheat for a further 5 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with the cilantro leaves.

SOURCE: The Ultimate Hot & Spicy Red Hot Cookbook by Jenni Fleetwood (Anness Publishing, 2008)


1 tablespoon whole allspice berries

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon whole cloves

2 teaspoons whole coriander

3 cinnamon sticks

4-1/2 cups apple cider

Rind and ¼ cup juice from 1 large orange

8 ounces applejack

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch slices

1 clementine or small orange, scrubbed and cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds

2 tablespoons dried cranberries

Place allspice, peppercorns, cloves, coriander and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in apple cider, orange rind and juice, and applejack and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer for 15 minutes.

Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard solids. Return cider to saucepan and add apples, clementines and cranberries. Simmer over medium-low heat until apples are fork-tender but still retain their shape and cranberries are plump, about 10 minutes. Serve.

SOURCE: “Winter Cocktails” by Maria Del Mar Sacasa (Quirk Books, 2013)

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