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Food for thought: Spicy food

By Jason Wong
On March 5, 2014

It seems to me like this winter has gone on forever, and the majority of the thoughts I have in any given day are related to how cold I am. One of the best ways to get warm again is to eat food that warms you up, and for me, that food comes best in the form of capsaicin, the main compound in chili peppers. In today's column, I want to recommend some of my favorite spicy dishes for readers that can handle the heat.
My all-time favorite food is my mom's Malaysian curry chicken. The most striking thing about this dish is its fragrance. It's aromatic without being overwhelming, and its flavor reflects that. The reason for this is the coconut milk, an uncommon ingredient in other curries. Unlike a lot of Indian or Thai curries, this curry is not particularly spicy (at least to practiced palates). The curry is perfect for drizzling over a bowl or three of rice, and the chicken thighs and potato wedges are always tender and delicious. It's easy enough to make too, especially if you buy the curry paste instead of making it yourself.
Another one of my favorite dishes comes from the Sichuan region of China, which is known for its Sichuan peppercorn. It's an interesting spice that seems to spread numbness on your tongue and lips, draws you in with its fragrance and leaves you wanting to just eat more of it. It's a spice that isn't warming or cooling; it's simply tingling. My personal favorite Sichuan peppercorn dish is Sichuan braised pork belly. It's a surprisingly simple dish that really only involves standard preparation and cooking the pork in oil along with the necessary spices like star anise, and of course, the Sichuan peppercorn.
When it comes to spicy vegetables, there's nothing I love better than kimchi. It's a traditional Korean dish that involves pickling cabbage and other vegetables with the appropriate regional spices. What's better is that kimchi is incredibly good for you; it's high in dietary fiber, low in calories and a great source of vitamin C and carotene.
Kimchi, however, can be difficult to make yourself without experience, so I'll also mention another couple of great spicy vegetable dishes I enjoy-mapo tofu and spicy green beans. Also hailing from the Sichuan region of China, this dish is made up of silken tofu cubes that are stir fried with Sichuan peppercorn, garlic and chilies (and meat if you really want it - I recommend ground pork). Like with the pork belly, this dish will leave you with your lips tingling and your stomach wanting more. The spicy green beans are even easier to prepare. You simply have to stir-fry them with thick black bean sauce, garlic and chilies, and in no time you'll be chowing down.

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