Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fighting Fire with Fire - Chilled Red Pepper Soup

Red Pepper Soup

It's here. After a delay of nearly two months, summer has arrived in the Northeast, and it is one hot and angry season now. There is a theory that you can trick your body into feeling cool and refreshed by sipping on chilled soup that zings with the heat of hot chile peppers. There is also another theory, that if you fall off a horse, you need to get back on to avoid the trauma that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

I am tackling the second theory first: my horse is the habañero chile. It's been two years since a sassy, fearless, and smug me slit open a clutch of cherry bombs without gloves on. I've never, despite the warnings, ever protected my hands against the volatile oils measured in various Scoville Units that spit at you while preparing any sort of hot pepper. I knew enough not to rub my eyes or mouth with my fingers, but the gods were snickering at me when the fumes rose up from under the running faucet where I was cleaning out the seed cavities. I needed a respirator. Seriously. The pain was real and merciless. Drinking anything just spread the misery. I laid on the couch for half an hour, weeping tears, not of onions, but of terror. There was nothing to do but wait it out. Do not try this at home.

I would probably still be stuck in time, nursing my self pity, had this month's No Croutons Required not put out the call for pepper recipes. I've never been one to opt for the easy way out and am always on the prowl for new culinary horizons. An Internet search quickly brought up this recipe. At first I had palpitations, especially when I read that it called for four to six of the fiendish fireballs, and even more so when I read the intro, which was a reassurance not to be alarmed by the number of chiles. So I felt the fear and did it anyway, my way, by reducing it down to just one chile.

I'm not going to lie to you. Even this level of heat has enough cumulative kick to smoke your sinuses, enough so that you will no longer feel those wretched summer temperatures suffocating you. Which just goes to prove that that other theory is correct, too. This recipe will have you blowing hot and cold.

Mean Girls
And hotter.
Chilled Red Pepper Soup - Adapted from the Gourmet recipe
(If you follow all the precautions I have provided while preparing the chile, you should have a positive - and painless - experience.)


4 large red bell peppers
2 pounds tomatoes (I used canned Italian peeled tomatoes for expedience)
1 very large yellow onion (about 1/2 pound), chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 small habañero chile (1-2 tablespoons when finely chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups water
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Garnishes and Stir-ins (optional, but will soothe the heat somewhat)
Chopped avocado
Sour cream
Black olives


Roast bell peppers over an open flame until uniformly charred, holding and turning them with a long-handled metal fork or tongs. If roasting indoors, ensure that your kitchen is well ventilated. Place charred peppers in a paper bag and fold over to seal. Set bag aside for at least ten minutes. Remove peppers from bag to a cutting board. The peppers will be collapsed and easy to peel. Discard the stems, membranes, seeds, and skins.

Prepare the habañero chile. Wearing disposable latex gloves and distancing your face as much as possible from your work area, cut off chile stem, then cut chile in quarters, trimming away membranes and seeds. Carefully discard these, ensuring you do not touch your face (especially your lips and eyes) with your hands. Finely chop chile and transfer to a small, dedicated bowl. Set aside. Carefully peel off gloves inside out from your hands and drop them directly into the garbage bin. Wash hands thoroughly before continuing.

In a large, heavy saucepan, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, chile (wash chile bowl immediately after emptying), salt and pepper, stirring occasionally until they are transparent and golden (about 10 minutes). Stir in bell pepper pieces, tomatoes, water, and bouillon cubes. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer until peppers and onions are very tender. Turn off heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Place saucepan in refrigerator until the contents are lukewarm. Purée soup in small batches in a blender. Pour purée into large bowl and return to refrigerator to fully chill. Serve with garnishes and crackers. Serves 4. --
Chilled Red Pepper Soup

This recipe is for Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes who co-hosts No Croutons Required, the monthly vegetarian salad and soup event, with Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen. The August theme is peppers.


  1. Years ago my then-husband and I made chile beer with these peppers. The beer was great! We had a similar experience with the process. Yee-how!!!

    The pics are gorgeous.

  2. I love peppers and that soup sounds èerfect. A delectable dish!

    Cheers and have a great weekend,


  3. Hi! That's an amazingly colourful soup. One gets fed up with the eyes only!

  4. This sounds really good. I think eating spicy cold things when it is hot is very cooling. Especially when followed with a cold shower or dip in the pool. Gorgeous photos of your sexy peppers too.

  5. Susan, the color of the soup is incredible!

  6. I've heard those theories before. Some people even say that drinking very hot coffee does the trick. Even though I like spicy food, I don't like it that spicy. Habaneros and I don't like each other very much :D

  7. I had habanero cheese quite often when I stayed with my aunt, my uncle introduced me to it, and it didn't strike me as hot as I thought it would be. And there was some seed in it, you know! Either it was defanged somehow or my Indian genes kicked in.

  8. Wow, so vibrant and full of flavours - wonderful!

  9. This looks great - I'm always a fan of chile peppers, especially habaneros.

    Your story about the habaneros reminds me: I was grinding dried habaneros for a rub once a few years ago. I took the lid off the mini prep and a huge cloud of habanero dust arose.... and hit me in the eyes. I'd essentially maced myself!

  10. Lovely bellpepper are beautiful and tempting.

  11. I have never found these here. I am not daring enough to have this, but i just want to see this, for the peppers sake:-) They look beautiful don't they?

    The soup is beautiful too. I am a sucker for red peppers any way.Chilli peppers do have a cooling effect after all that "hah hooohs" wear off. I guess that is the reason hot peppers are more commonly used in warmer places.

  12. love those fiery red photos

    I sympathise with your chilli pains - I always turn to the washing up rubber gloves to cut them because have had bad experiences in the past

    but this soup looks gorgeous and one chilli sounds just enough for me

  13. Beautiful photos! I came home today to my husband nursing his burns in the shower after a similar habanero experience. Luckily, he recognized the humor in the situation. Your story, however, makes me realize I should probably wait a week or two before starting off stories, "Hey, remember that one time where you played with habaneros..."

  14. I stumbled upon your blog via Tastespotting. I have to say that you have beautiful photos! And the recipe's great! Keep up the great work! :D

  15. The pic is hot.. so is the soup.. I have had similar experience.. We grind dry chillies and I did not cover my nose when I was at the flour mill and it took me hours before I could get normal.. Awesome pics Susan..

  16. I love the flavors in this soup, so hot and spicy!

  17. Oh my, such a brave, beautiful soup! Bravo to you for courageously riding the pepper horse again! You inspire me!

    Thank you so much for your comment about the bubble tea! I'm so excited to hear more about your big tapioca pearls when they arrive!! :-)

  18. Ah, yes, I remember the first time I prepared jalapenos, bare-handed: about an hour later, I thought, "Gee, did I burn myself on the stove and not even realize it?" The sting lingered on until the next day! I still don't use gloves, either, but am very careful when cutting and wash hands immediately after. For this soup, I may be more cautious!

  19. I may sound like a baby but those peppers scare me a little, the soup looks fantastic though. I'm sick of all the weird summer weather we've been having in New England and am looking forward to a cool and crisp fall.

  20. i love the color and texture and i really can smell the soup!
    i would like to have it hot and spicy

  21. oh i love anything red and hot!!! i would eating this with garlicky croutons though :-) yummy photos as always!!

  22. great idea to chill the fiery hot pepper soup before serving. Love the gorgeous red!

  23. LL - Thanks. Chile beer sounds fantastic.

    Thanks, Rosa!

    Hi, Pari! Thanks so much for your visit.

    Thank you, Rachel. Dip in the pool is a great appetizer for this soup. : )

    Anh - Thanks! That's its real, vibrant color, too.

    Ben - Hot coffee's never worked for me. Personally I've always been more refreshed with iced beverages, coffee or tea. Habanero's not been my friend very long. I expect that if I was too liberal, I would have another unpleasant episode with it, and maybe be enemies for life. ; )

    Sra - I'm pretty sure I know the cheese you were recently served at your aunt and uncle's. I can guarantee that it was defanged. The ratio of dairy to pepper was likely very high, seeds notwithstanding.

    Welcome, Nicisme! Thank you for your kind words. Good to see you.

    Jessica - Thanks. Mace, a perfect description of this stuff. :D There is a similar self-defence product, pepper spray. I wonder if they use habanero. :P

    Thanks, A2Z! Good to see you.

    Shaista - Thank you. : )

    Soma - Thanks. Yes, the peppers themselves are beautiful, like Chinese lanterns; they look like plastic. Uh, they are not. ; D

    Hi, Johanna - Thank you. I think most have had a bad experience with hot peppers that chastens enough to be much more careful next time.

    Welcome, Zested! Good to see you. Thanks so much for your comments. You are too funny. Of course, your husband wasn't laughing at the time. :}

    Hi, Kamran! Welcome. Thanks so much.

    Cynthia - It's been hard won sometimes. : D

    Hello, Hema! You poor thing. I know exactly what you are talking about. It is the VERY worst when you inhale it - quite painful and scary. Glad you like the pix. Thanks!

    Thank you, Parita!


    Astra - Thank you. I love hot & spicy too much to let it get the best of me...for too long. : }

    I'll be making bubble tea very soon. I'm just waiting on one more ingredient, a black, lychee-flavored tea. Can't wait.


    Ricki - Habanero really does require extra precautions, but I agree that even milder hot chiles can kick you when you least expect them.

    Hi, Kelly! Welcome! No, you don't sound like a baby - you've got sense, actually. ; ) At the moment, it is raining hard...yet again. I do hope you have a typical New England fall; there is nothing like it.

    Thanks, Nanditha! I knew you would appreciate the spice quotient. Indian palates are far more generally accustomed to the kick.

    Hilda - Thanks! Garlicky croutons are an excellent idea.

    Wiffy - Thank you. For the hot weather, this soup would be perhaps oppressive if it wasn't chilled first.

  24. Hi Susan,
    Accept your awards from my blog dear


  25. Wow...that looks very good...firey warm and comforting...grin. Summer has arrived for you? I am saying farewell here on the west coast of Canada....

  26. I have only heard of these chilli peppers before. Never knew they were so dangerously fiery! And they look so pretty.

  27. First timer @ your blog ! You are excellent photographer :) Happy posting !

  28. Unfortunately for me, I just discovered this [wonderful] blog this morning: an early-October college football Saturday featuring November-like temps outside!

    Not wanting to wait eight months to try this recipe out, I began to imagine a warming, fiery-fall version of this same recipe. In the midst of assembling this now for dinner this evening, will try and return here to report results. My only planned variations are:

    -Serve as a traditional hot soup.

    -Sub olive oil for a half-pound of peppered bacon cooked off in the eventual soup pot. My thought is that the smokiness of the bacon will augment the sweetness of the red peppers, and that the entire dish will take on a greater "earthiness." Not wanting too much bacon fat (which would just serve as a conduit for the heat), I half-cooked the bacon in my pot, then removed to finish off in the microwave.

    -Deglazed pot with a bottle of beer, which I imagine will sub for the stock.

    Oh yeah, thanks to an extreme tolerance for/love of hot foods, I went ahead and used five habaneros in this version. We'll see how THAT one goes:) If one would like to create a more heart-healthy version of the bacon idea, I imagine a couple slices of pre-cooked (and thus, defatted) bacon crumbled up into the soup toward the middle of the cooking process might produce the same effect.

    Wish me luck! Thanks:)

  29. My results on the cool weather/warm soup variation on this recipe were surprisingly good. I chickened out on the amount of hot peppers and reduced the amount to roughly 2.5 mid-sized pods. The result was still plenty hot and added to the warming nature of this fall soup experiment, and yet the entire dish remained light-but-satisfying. Served with a nice, earthy multigrain bread and that turned out to be a good combination. Try it if you like, and thank you for this lovely blog!