Taste test: Togarashi

Image by zrim via Flickr

When I got a bag of chile peppers in our CSA delivery last week, I had a really hard time trying to figure out how to cook them. I tried putting them in pasta, but that turned out numbingly spicy. And then I remembered that chile peppers = togarashi in Japanese, and that they are a key ingredient in one of my all-time favorite spices — shichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice mix commonly found at home dinner tables and yakitori restaurants that is designed to enhance the natural flavors of high quality meat and veggies. For this week's Taste Test, I thought I'd share a simple recipe for shichimi and give you some tips on other ways to use it.

urawaza toes.png
An excerpt from my book, Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan, offers a toe-warming chile pepper trick.

Chile peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical that induces warmth, so you can stick it in your shoe or mitten to keep toes and fingers warm. It is apparently also useful for keeping rice from becoming bug-infested — a colleague of mine once sent me a plastic chile pepper with chile oil in it sold in Japan for that precise purpose. Capsaicin has also been tested on rats for things like pain relief, cancer cell reduction, diabetes prevention, and weight loss.

Okay, so here's how you make shichimi togarashi, a delicious seven-ingredient Japanese spice mix, at home, via a recipe I found on Chow.com:

1 tbsp ground chile pepper
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dried tangerine peel
2 tsp flaked nori
2 tsp black sesame seeds
2 tsp white poppy seeds or black cannabis seeds
2 tsp minced garlic

Combine all the ingredients in a small container, then grind together using a grinder or a wooden seed-grinder.

Of course, there are many other ways to make the chile pepper a part of your diet — it's great in salsas, hot sauces, and on pizza — I'm sure many of you have your own favorite uses for the versatile fruit. If you just don't like the taste of chile peppers at all, it makes a lovely Christmas tree ornament.

Every installment of Taste Test will explore recipes, the science, and some history behind a specific food item.