There are people who should really be called chile abusers--ask anybody who's ever been to a chili cook-off or watched a chile-eating contest. But people who actually like to taste their food usually like chiles too, and in countries where peppers are an integral part of the cuisine, they're nearly always in the majority.
These traditional cuisines show the many ways chiles can be used to create exciting dishes that are not mere endurance contests. It's all a matter of imagination and balance. These are some of our favorite hot dishes.
Raja is known for its succulent tandoori rack of lamb, but if you want something really spicy, try this dish.
RAJA'S SPICY ROGHAN JOSH
1 (2-ounce) head garlic, peeled
1 (3 1/2-inch) piece ginger root, peeled
3/4 cup oil
2 pounds onions, chopped
2 pounds cubed boneless lean lamb
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 bay leaves
10 to 12 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
4 green cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
10 to 12 black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 medium tomato
2 serrano chiles
1 (8-ounce) carton nonfat yogurt
1/4 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves
Grind garlic and ginger together in blender or small food processor to form paste.
Heat oil in Dutch oven. Add garlic-ginger paste and cook about 3 minutes, until light brown. Add few teaspoons water to keep mixture from burning. Add onions, lamb, turmeric, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom pods, peppercorns, nutmeg, mace and salt. Add 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water and mix well. Cover and cook on low heat 15 minutes.
Uncover pan and stir mixture thoroughly. Add cumin, coriander, cayenne and paprika, mixing well. Grind tomato and serrano chiles to paste, add to pot with yogurt and stir. Increase heat and cook, stirring, until liquid dries and oil separates from mixture. To avoid scorching, occasionally sprinkle few drops of water on mixture. Add 1/3 cup water and fenugreek leaves. Cover and simmer over very low heat 10 minutes. If desired, spoon off oil at this point. Makes 8 servings.
Note: For hotter flavor, use 3 serrano chiles and 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper. Add 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper with fenugreek leaves at end of cooking.