Monday, April 7

Habaneros Are Hot


In August 1997, and Jeff and I were at the Raleigh Farmers' Market in North Carolina. A farmer was selling a wide variety of chilies, including habaneros. I was instantly drawn to their shiny, reddish-orange skin and almost heart-like shape.

"What do habaneros taste like? I asked.

"They got kick in 'em," he said, as he chewed on a toothpick.

"Can they be eaten raw, or should I cook them?" I asked.

"You can eat 'em any way you like," he said, now twirling the toothpick between his thumb and forefinger.

"How 'bout the seeds? Should I take them out first?" I asked.

habanero seeds

"If you want to," he said.

Realizing I was just going to have to find out for myself, I quickly selected four or five brilliant habaneros, paid for them, and proudly announced to Jeff that I would make burritos with habanero salsa for dinner.

As I was preparing the salsa, Jeff sampled a tiny piece of the habanero; he coughed a couple of times and declared it "pretty hot." I decided to forgo the taste test and chopped up two habaneros, seeds and all.

We sat down to eat dinner, and I added a spoonful of my brilliant orange habanero salsa to my burrito. After the first bite, I felt a burning sensation on my lips, then my tongue started to prick with heat. Within seconds, actual flames of fire were leaping through the roof of my mouth into my nose. I tried to yelp but only gurgling sounds came out.

Jeff, realizing I was in trouble, handed me a glass of water. (This was before medical school; what did he know?) I waited for relief. Instead, like throwing water on hot oil, the fire in my mouth roared.

After a couple minutes of coughing and chest pounding, I said to Jeff, "My lipth feelths funny." I went into the bathroom and sure enough, my upper lip was swollen to twice its size. I'd always wanted fuller lips but this was ridiculous.

I've learned a few things about chilies since that memorable day. Turns out a chili's "heat" comes from a compound called capsaicin and can be measured on the Scoville Scale. Created by a chemist named Wilbur Scoville, this scale accurately measures the level of capsaicin in a chili. Scoville heat units (SHU) indicate the amount of capsaicin in a chili. For instance,
  • a red bell pepper registers a zero (you feel nothing)
  • a jalapeno = 2,500-8,000 (you feel a mild tingling sensation in your mouth)
  • a serrano = 10,000-25,000 (your lips and belly get warm and prick with heat)
  • a habanero = 100,000-350,000 (pain, not enjoyment, pain)
The Wall Street Journal not too long had a story on the world's hottest chili, the bhut jolokia, which registers over 1,000,000 SHU! At that heat, I would be afraid of dying.

Despite my initial adverse reaction, I still eat habaneros but without the seeds. And if my mouth starts to burn, I don't drink water. I eat bread or a banana; I've read that creamy foods like yogurt are supposed to work too.

habanero salsa bowl

So please try these quesadillas with a fruity habanero salsa. The sweet pineapple, mango, and kiwi contrast pleasingly with the spicy green onions and fiery habanero. Plus the acidic lime juice helps to temper the chili's heat. It's a quick mid-week meal or easy party dish. Feel free to play around with the ingredients to your liking; after all, quesadillas are meant to be fun.

When you make them, just be sure to have some bread, bananas, and yogurt nearby, just in case.

quesadilla close up

Goat Cheese and Poblano Quesadillas with Pineapple-Mango-Habanero Salsa

Make 4 quesadillas
Print recipe only here.

1 cup diced fresh pineapple
1 cup diced fresh mango
1 diced kiwi
1 habanero, minced, and seeds removed (unless you're a glutton for punishment)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
the juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
salt, to taste

1 large or 2 small poblano peppers, de-seeded and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
salt, to taste

8 (6-7- inch flour tortillas)
4 ounces goat cheese

To prepare the salsa, place all ingredients in a medium bowl and gently toss. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes (or up to 2 hours) for the flavors to mingle.

Place poblano pepper over an open gas flame, turning occasionally, until thoroughly charred and blistered on all sides. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove, and using some paper towel, gently scrape off the skin. Halve, stem and seed the pepper. Cut into strips, then dice, and place in a bowl. Set aside.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add canola oil and red onion, and saute for 3-5 minutes. Add sugar, reduce heat to low, and continue to cook until onions are caramelized, about 7-10 minutes. Add cooked poblano peppers to the skillet, season with salt, and toss to combine. Remove from heat.

Place 1 tortilla on a clean cutting board; spread with 1 ounce of goat cheese, then 1/4 of the poblano mixture. Top with another tortilla, and press lightly with your hand. Continue with remaining tortillas and filling until you complete 4 quesadillas.

Heat a large, nonstick, dry skillet over medium heat. Add 1 quesadilla. Cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet and place in a warm oven (200-300 degrees F) until ready to serve. (Or eat 'em as you make 'em.) Repeat with remaining 3 quesadillas.

Cut each quesadilla into 3 or 4 wedges. Serve with salsa.

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Note: The previous post for WEB, Weekend Eagle Blogging was a spoof. Please don't send me pictures of predatory birds with road-kill soup.

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Proud Italian Cook said...

Susan, That pineapple salsa looks amazing! Habanero, kiwi, what a great and different combo.I have a weekness for fish taco's and shrimp taco's, after reading your post on them, I'm getting my shopping list going right now!

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel. I was at the fiery foods show in Austin, TX trying out all the hot sauces. I walked up to a booth selected a chip and plowed it down into an oily dark red crushed pepper concoction and popped into my mouth. The booth attendant turned and asked right before the HOLY CRAP moment, “How do you like our crushed red savina habaneros?” Needless to say I wasn’t a man about it. How can you be? I was in agony and couldn’t taste anything the rest of the show. Thank you for your story as I was cracking up while reading it!

Cicero Sings said...

Jalapeno's are so insipid these days that we have switched to Habaneros (even though they are hard to come by in our neck of the woods) ... but it's true, a little goes a LOOONNNG way.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I suspect many of us have firsthand accounts of The Power of the Pepper.

I try to be careful, ever sine I accidentally rubbed my eye after chopping a jalapeño. (I contemplated spending the night with my head in bucked of water.)

But I tend to get cocky after a while. Of course, that's when I feel the burn all over again.

Susan @ SGCC said...

Lol! I can relate to your story. I had a similar experience with Scotch Bonnets on our honeymoon in Barbados. Those peppers look so pretty, but they're lethal!

Your salsa looks so pretty. I'm tempted!

RecipeGirl said...

I was playing around with habaneros recently and ended up only putting a teeny tiny smidgen in my recipe. Hot stuff!

funwithyourfood said...

my first encounter with a habanero stopped at the chopping stage... i thought, if it's making my FINGERS burn what is it going to do to my mouth?!



David Hall said...

Great story Susan, made me laugh out loud, you poor thing! Glad you have learned your lesson. I have a similar chilli story that involves a far more sensitive area that I am afraid isn't for family reading!


Unknown said...

cool combo, and i like it HOT ;)

Manggy said...

Hee, when I read the title, I was all, "duh!" But you never really know how hot it is until you've tried one (which I haven't-- not available here as usual) and find out what your tongue's made of! I love that you said "pain, not enjoyment, pain" and a few sentences later... Please try this fruity salsa, haha :) In any case I love spicy food and I love the look of your colorful salsa!

Johanna GGG said...

love the salsa but I felt your pain - I am a chilli wimp and wear gloves to chop chillis - thanks for the warning about the habaneros - have seen them beckoning and wondered if they are friendly but now I know to beware!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I'm such a whimp when it comes to chilies. My highly sensitive palate wilts! :-) The incident you describe would have sent me to the hospital! I'm trying to be more adventurous, and the beautiful colors of chilies always attract me. I'll keep the banana close at hand!

Finla said...

When i read your title i knew what it was.
Indeed these chillies are really hot.
Fruity habanero salsa looks beautiful

Mike of Mike's Table said...

lol, now that's a hard lesson to learn! I'm glad to hear you're still a habanero fan though and I really like the flavors in the salsa--I never would have considered kiwi before. Now if you want a real kick in the teeth, go for a hot sauce with habanero extract for a slightly more concentrated dose...mister i-like-hot-things over here didn't appreciate the amazingly elevated level of potency and just poured it on my pizza a few weeks ago...lesson learned.

Peter M said...

I believe the Habanero & Scotch Bonnet could be one & the same.

One of these firecrackers used to go a long way but much like the jalapeno, they are breeding the heat out them to sell more...pity.

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience with a pepper from Surinam called Madame Jeannette. It's from the same family of Habanero and is 150.000-325.000 SHU. I baked it for a Suriman dish, the baking already caused me to cough but still I thought it would be ok cause I only used about half...well it wasn't ok ;) I can relate to the flames coming out of my mouth ha ha!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Milk is a good antidote to habanero burn. Ask me how I know. I think everyone who thinks they love hot pepper has tried the "Oh, it won't bother me" approach, only to have the same experience you did.

Patricia Scarpin said...

I had no idea about not drinking water, Susan, wow! Boy, have I been in danger till now or what? :)
Poor you - I think there was an Angelina Jolie vibe going on that day. :)
Those quesadillas look wonderful... And you used goat's cheese, I love that stuff.

Anonymous said...

I use dried habaneros along with other dried peppers in my harissa to add that extra heat... but not too much! You salsa recipe looks wonderful-- the fruit would be a perfect counterpart to the fiery peppers.

One question: were you wearing gloves when you chopped the habaneros? I'd have thought the pain on your fingers would have given away just how intense they can be!

Stella said...

Susan, I looooove chilli, I simply can't have my food without getting hot! Your salsa sounds so good & I love the photos!

Katy said...

oh my gosh -- my mouth hurts just looking at this post!!! i am such a spice wimp -- i even make my fiance taste the salsa whenever we go out for mexican food to see if it's safe for me to eat. it's too bad because i'm very adventurous otherwise, but really spicy things just kill me!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Heh. Great - if painful - tale. Good for you for not being put off by that experience!

apprenticehawker said...

They don't look that hot from the pics though :)

Deborah said...

I can't even imagine how hot that had to be!! But the dish sounds amazing!

Le Flâneur Novice said...

I guess we also have such kind of pepper which we call them "arnavut biberi" here, too :D Which I never but NeVeRrrr try :)))

Susan I did laugh! You made my evening! :)))

Bistro 613 said...

I grow a variety of hot peppers each summer, and its surprising how much the intensity can vary from pepper to pepper!

That said, I had always been under the impression it was the inner membrane that held the highest amount of fire... will have to keep that in mind when I get another hot batch!

ps- habaneros go so perfectly with a fruity salsa! I never have the patience to dice a pineapple, so I tend towards the mango ones instead. Yours looks great!

Anonymous said...

You poor thing! Growing up in Texas you learn a thing or 2 about peppers/chilis..... I can't handle any seeds & a spoonful of sugar takes the sting out of your mouth if it's burning.

These quesadillas look yummy - I always have tortillas handy.

xoxox Amy

cindy said...

ha, ha, i love reading people's 'chile moments'! we recently went to a mexican restaurant and there was an whole habanero pepper on hubby's food as a garnish. i took it off his plate and said , "you don't wanna eat THAT!" he doesn't do chile anyway, so that would probably kill him! the salsa looks divine!

Elise said...

Susan, that is too funny! OUCH. Hope you didn't rub your eyes too. Seriously, the flavor of habanero is fantastic, it just needs to come in small doses. Your pineapple mango habanero salsa would be a delicious way to bring out the chile flavor without lighting your mouth on fire.

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Love the habanero with mango salsa idea.

Mansi said...

That looks great for my dinner Susan! I make the salsa same as yours, but we cut down on the haebenaro a lot:) I'm dying to make a nice sauce out of them though...:)

Cris said...

Ohhhhh, I had no idea they were that hot! I love peppers. And I always take the seeds off, heeh.

Laura said...

I had to chuckle at the farmer's answers to your questions... saying habanero has a kick to it is quite an understatement!

It is NOT wimpy to wear gloves while cutting up habaneros. Especially if you plan on touching your eyes in the next 24 hours. (Like me -- I wear contacts.) Capsaicin is an oil, and one that doesn't wash off well with soap and water.

I can make habanero salsa in the afternoon, wash my hands several times before taking my contacts out in the evening, and STILL have to throw my contacts out the next morning because the burning is so bad when I put them back in. Capsaicin is serious stuff!

Whole milk tends to help with the burning (in my mouth, not my eyes!) when I make my salsa too hot.

Your salsa and quesadillas look fantastic! I have a mango on hand and was already planning to have tacos later in the week. I think I may have to try at least the salsa...

Nupur said...

Your salsa is a little taste of summer, Susan! I can't wait to try it (sans kiwi...I am allergic). I have never tried fresh habaneros, but I do keep dried ones at hand for tortilla soup (always remembering to fish it out before serving the soup)!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

marie-this is perfect for fish tacos.

kevin-I just hope you didn't cry. ;)Thanks for the funny story.

cicero-You can say that again.

kelly-I've done the eye rub. Pain, lots of pain.

susan-I hope it didn't "interfere" with the honeymoon. ;)

lori-teeny-tiny is the way to go.

teddy-Yeah, wearing gloves isn't a bad idea.

david-You can email to me then. ;)

rita-the hotter the better!

mark-You're right, you have to experience it.

johanna-Gloves are a GOOD idea.

tw-Just remove the seeds and you should be good to go.

happy cook-Thanks, it's a great salsa.

mike-The sweet fruit goes so well with the fiery habanero.

peter-They register the same.

linda-I haven't heard of that one before. I'll just take your word for it though. ;)

lydia-I think it's pretty universal.

patricia-Remember-NO WATER! :)

ann-I do wear gloves NOW, but I didn't then.

Stella-Well this salsa is for you.

katy-Then you might want to stay away from habanero.

forkful-I try. ;)

world recipes-Care for a bite? ;)

deborah-It is, so I hope you try it.

bal-Aw, thanks.

shelly-You can buy pineapple already chopped in the produce section. :)

amy-Texas, huh? Then you know your peppers.

cinderelly-Smart wife. Very smart wife.

elise-No, I've done the eye rub in the past and learned my lesson.

anonymous-Thanks so much!

mansi-Hope you like it!

cris-They are--be careful!

laura-He was quite a conversationalist. ;)

nupur-It's wonderful even without the kiwi.

Jeff said...

I love how habaneros go perfectly with fruit (one of my favorite glazes for chicken or pork is pineapple juice cooked with a habanero). Nicely done and like the use of kiwi. I am definitely going to try this out.

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

Susan--A great story and beautiful photos. Thanks for the ranking of the peppers--really puts the heat of habaneros in perspective.

As Lydia said, milk also works. But interestingly, only inside your mouth. If the hot peppers start burning the outside of your mouth, for instance, applying milk doesn't do a thing.

sage said...

Thanks for the salsa recipe! I made this last night, but I had to sub tomatoes for kiwi cuz I couldn't find any kiwi. Yum!

And we're not huge cheese fans in my house, so I played with the quesadillas some, too. Totally yummy!

Gretchen Noelle said...

(singing) A teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down...and the heat go away. Who knew? I have had my own encounters with hot peppers here and have learned that. Also, a splash of oil helps with the heat when you are making a hot sauce of sorts. Love the look of this colorful salsa!!

Chris said...

Oh my! My side hurts from laughing - and only because I don't do well with "heat" and have been "burned" before. This salsa looks wonderful!

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Anonymous said...

HUGE success here at Casa Bencomo. The goat cheese adds a level of sophistication to the quesadilla (which we desperately need!). I added some shredded chicken to make a meal out of it (lazy, I know) & everyone was quite pleased.

Thank you, hun, for exposing us all to new flavors,

Susan from Food Blogga said...

jeff-the kiwi add a unique tangy-sweet flavor.

terry-I like to think of it as a public service announcement.

kotzebue-I'm so glad you liked it. Thanks for sharing!

gretchen-Thanks, I never heard of that before.

chris-I laugh about it too, NOW, that is, not then.

amy-The chicken sounds like a hearty addition. I'm so happy your family liked them. Thanks for sharing!

Cakelaw said...

The salsa looks super - I'd be keen to try it, but i will remember your warning about de-seeding the chillies.

Anonymous said...

I like the look of your salsa! I use a lot of habaneros in my cooking, but I guess I've gotten used to their effects. I actually find the heat soothing when my allergies are acting up. I made a Rick Bayless salsa recipe once that actually called for 12 habaneros. They were roasted first, and while that helped a little it was still powerful.

Lori Lynn said...

Hi Susan - Very entertaining post! I felt your pain. I have an ongoing debate with a friend of mine, that nothing relives the pain from the pepper except for the passage of time. I am not inclined to do the experiment, however. haha

Nicole said...

Ha ha! Good post. I love habaneros (in small doses of course). I once made a bet with a guy that I could handle a bite of it raw better than he could! I won $20! But it hurt. Milk seems to help out well too. My kids like a little (just a little) spicy now and then and the milk seems to really help out.

Anonymous said...

Like botox, only hotter :)
Your salsa looks so fresh and tasty!

Anonymous said...

That looks amazing, so delightful. A must when the warmer weather gets here, if it ever does.

Andrea said...

We have a habanero plant in our kitchen, but we've had to put it out of boys' reach since our 3-year-old decided to have a bite out of one two weeks ago. He was not happy! I'm just relieved he didn't get any of the oil in his eyes.

Susan said...

Punishment, indeed! I love kick-in-the-pants heat, but my first habanero was literally a trial by fire, just like yours, Susan. I can laugh *now*, but, boy, not at the time. I needed a respirator!

jeanie said...

My partner is a Southern Californian chilli lover, thus planted a few chillies in our garden.

The habernero is going great guns - every tried to find recipes that use 30-60 haberneros? They do not exist (well, not culinary recipes).

Unfortunately he doesn't believe fruit should be mixed with mains - I may try this tonight (with our Tuesday night tacos) for a change for him.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

cakelaw- Yes, please don't forget!

fearless-12? And you live to tell about it? ;)

lori lynn-I don't blame you.

nicole-$20. Not too shabby!

kristen-Except you don't look younger afterwards. ;)

goddness-Amazing colors too!

andrea-Thank goodness he's okay. :)


jeanie-30-60 habaneros in anything is enough to make me run in the opposite direction (while carrying a fire extinguisher.)

TBC said...

I like the sound of that salsa.
Hot and sweet! So colorful too.

Jeanne said...

LOL! Nick is the hot food guy in the house, not me. But I do love to grow chiles (or I used to, before we moved to The Island Where The Sun Don't Shine!!). When we were packing to leave South Africa I still had the idea that I might grow a few chiles and wanted to harvest seeds from the ones we had growing in our flat. I chopped one up, removed the seeds and put them on some kitchen towel to dry. Then I touched my mouth. I can't remember why - maybe my lip was itchy, who knows. But 5 minutes later the lower half of my face was red and throbbing and decidedly unsexy. Can't imagine how you must have felt actually INGESTING your habaneros!