What to do if your food is too spicy (and a recipe for Moroccan stew)

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It’s Sunday, which meant there was time to slow cook this afternoon. I really fancied making this Moroccan lentil and carrot stew by the wonderful Inspiralized people, which needed three hours of cooking time.

So I started it off. Then after about 2 and a half hours, I tasted it. OH NO! The recipe called for a tablespoon of harissa. I’d added a tablespoon of harissa*. But the result was crazy, crazy hot. I dipped the edge of a teaspoon and tasted the tiniest bit of the sauce, and my mouth was on fire. TOO. MUCH. SPICE.

*In all honesty, I was probably over generous with the harissa. I always forget how spicy it really is. It looks so innocuous in its little tube, and it tricks me every time.

This could have been the end of my stew. But I don’t give up so easily! If you have made your food too spicy, here are a few tips and tricks to calm your food down again.

1. Acid
Adding acid to your food can chill it out a lot. The recipe I was using called for lemon juice at the end, which really helped. Lime juice works well, or you could think about adding a the acid splash of some vinegar to help to neutralise that heat. Just think carefully about which vinegar – for example, do you want something as strongly flavoured as balsamic?

2. Sugar
Adding something sweet can also help. A small amount of sugar will start to tame the spice. In this instance, I used the sweetness of that sophisticated ingredient… tomato ketchup! Alright, it may not exactly be gourmet, but the sugar hit from ketchup does a great job of neutralising the bitterness of tomatoes in pasta sauce, and it worked well here to make my stew less fiery.

3. Dairy
This didn’t really work for me in my Moroccan-inspired stew, but adding some dairy can be a brilliant way to counteract spice. You know, soured cream with Mexican food, yoghurt (or a yoghurt-based sauce like raita) with a hot curry… cuisines that are famous for their spiciness often have a dairy-based counterpart. You can add it to the meal (like coconut milk in a Thai curry) or have it on the side, but a little bit of dairy will go a long way.
You probably know this as well, but drinking milk will be much better for you than drinking water if you are eating something that is painfully hot. And if, as once happened to me, someone tricks you into eating a whole bird’s eye chilli, then you may just have to resort to smearing butter all over your tongue.

4. Bulk it up!
Another trick is to change the ratio of spicy ingredients to non-spicy ingredients.  You could do this by doubling up the recipe, so re-adding everything you already added EXCEPT for the chilli. Or add a few extra ingredients. Carrots, potatoes and other vegetables are really good for absorbing the heat. I added a small carton of Frito (which is basically a really popular Spanish version of passata) to bulk out the stew with a non-spicy ingredient.

Using one or a combination of these tips with help to rescue you if your food is too spicy. Think of them as your own personal fire fighting service!

In the end, the lemon juice, ketchup and passata saved my stew, and I had a delicious supper that was tingly and warm, but didn’t result in the need for skin grafts in my mouth.

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If you would like to make my modified version of the stew, here is the recipe. If you’d like to make the original (and just be less of an idiot with the harissa than I was) then follow this link.

Moroccan lentil and carrot stew

Ingredients (makes six servings – perfect for the freezer)
– Three medium carrots
– 1 onion, diced
– 2 sticks of celery, diced
– 3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
– 1 teaspoon ground cumin
– 1 teaspoon ground coriander
– 1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
– pinch of ground cinnamon
– 200ml weak vegetable stock
– 400g dried lentils
– 400g can chopped tomatoes in their juice
– 200ml cartoon of passata or frito (if you like, just use two cans of chopped tomatoes)
– squeeze of tomato ketchup (to taste)
– 1 tablespoon (careful now) of harissa
– 1 tablespoon of tomato puree
– juice of one lime

Method
1. Peel your carrots and chop each one into three large pieces. Put in a food processor and pulse until in little pieces like rice. (Or just dice it reallllly finely)
2. In a large pan, heat a little oil, then combine the carrot, onions, celery, garlic, cumin, coriander, tumeric and cinnamon. Stir, then add the stock, lentils, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and harissa. You could also add the frito/passata now. I added it later, but only to moderate the spice. You could wait and see if you actually need it later on, as this will depend on your tolerance for heat.
3. Put a lid on the pan and simmer for 3 hours, until the vegetables are soft and the lentils have absorbed the water. Keep checking that there is liquid in the pan, it shouldn’t be dry. This is a stew after all!
4. Taste it! Modify with any of the above techniques if necessary.
5. Stir in the lime juice, and serve. Any left over can be put into separate portions and frozen.

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