Spice Up or Cool Down Your Favorite Foods

A few minor swaps will lead to some major changes in how spicy or mild the food on your dinner plate tastes.

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Add Fiery Heat To: Cheese Pizza

If you really want to kick things up a notch, stir into tomato sauce a finely chopped canned chipotle chile and some adobo sauce. Or, make a jalapeno-laced pesto for the pizza-sauce base. Minced fresh jalapenos and spicy cured meats and cheeses will also add plenty of heat as toppings to any pizza.

By Teri Tsang Barrett

Cool Down Too-Spicy: Tomato Sauce

Whether you whipped up pasta all'Amatriciana or experimented by spicing up jarred tomato sauce, add some kind of dairy to tone down the heat. Drizzle in some heavy cream to cut back heat significantly, or try copious amounts of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to lighten the sauce a touch. Good backups that will also work include mascarpone, sour cream, yogurt (preferably Greek-style) and milk. Taste as you go.

Add Fiery Heat To: Tomato Sauce

Cook any onions and garlic with some minced chipotle peppers packed in adobo sauce — start small, as a little goes a long way. Crushed red peppers can be used to season the meat during cooking. Spike the tomato sauce with more minced chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, ground cayenne pepper, coarsely ground dried chiles, fresh minced chiles, or even a hot sauce or salsa. Again, go slow: Season just a bit, and then taste before seasoning further.

Cool Down Too-Spicy: Salsa

For red-based salsas, add more tomato, if possible, or add finely chopped cucumber, avocado, fresh leafy herbs, mango, melon or oranges. A touch of honey or sugar may also help. Dial down the heat in a green-based salsa by using canned green chiles, or raw or roasted tomatillos in the recipe instead of any other green chiles, which are likely to be spicy. If the sauce is prepared, bring the heat down without sacrificing the texture by adding a puree using cilantro, lime or orange juice, the above ingredients, or a mixture of them all.

Add Fiery Heat To: Salsa

Stir in a minced fresh chile, leaving in the seeds for maximum heat. A splash of adobo sauce or a minced or pureed chipotle chile would also do the trick. 

Get the Recipe: Salsa De Arbol

Cool Down Too-Spicy: Buffalo Chicken Wings

Buffalo wing sauce is, essentially, melted butter and hot sauce. If you're tossing the wings with the sauce yourself, skip the hot sauce and swap in ketchup, barbecue sauce or pureed tomatoes and some salt. Season the swapped-in sauce with some vinegar, to taste, for a tart kick.

Get the Recipe: Smoked Jerk Chicken Wings With Spicy Honey-Tamarind Glaze

Add Fiery Heat To: Hamburger

Finely chopped or even pureed jalapenos and canned chipotles can be stirred lightly into ground beef to make it spicy. Hot sauce or salsa will also do the trick. Use spicy cheeses or condiments, or add a DIY kick to milder ones by stirring in salsa or anything spicy.

Get the Recipe: Latin Burgers with Caramelized Onion and Jalapeno Relish and Red Pepper Mayonnaise

Cool Down Too-Spicy: Chili

Standard toppings or bar options like sour cream or cheese will reduce the heat in individual servings. Splashes of heavy cream should do the trick to cool off an entire pot, but for nondairy whole-batch options, try soy sauce, orange juice, beer or wine. If none of these options are available, try simmering the batch for longer (add water to prevent burning or to extend the chili as necessary) to cook off some of the spicy heat.

Add Fiery Heat To: Sandwiches

Stir some chopped or minced fresh jalapeno or canned chipotles packed in adobo sauce into the condiment to taste. A pinch of ground cayenne pepper and dashes of hot sauce will also do the trick. When possible, use spicy cheese along with spicy cured meats, and add spicy pickles or jarred pepperoncini. Some Asian-style ground-chile spreads can be smeared on directly, but taste first — you may want to lighten the heat with a condiment or use the spread sparingly.

Cool Down Too-Spicy: Soups

For a cream-based soup, add milk to taste, to cut back the heat. A mixture of heavy cream and broth will also work. For non-creamy soups, adding a splash of cream or other dairy will temper any spice, as should the primary ingredient found in the soup base. If it complements the soup's flavor, try adding one of these other liquids: wine, beer or juice (such as tomato or orange juice) seasoned with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or soy sauce.

Get the Recipe: Classic Tortilla Soup

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