It seems paradoxical, but eating spicy foods on a hot day may actually help cool you down. The heat from a spicy dish increases your circulation and raises your body temperature, so your body starts pumping out sweat, which helps bring you back to thermal equilibrium once it evaporates. Natives of especially hot regions—think Southeast Asia, North Africa, and parts of Mexico—figured this out long ago, and many of the 18 peppery-but-summery dishes below are influenced by their cuisines. Cold chili-infused noodles, mouth-numbing salads, and spiced grilled meats are not only addictively delicious, they'll also help you chill out during the unforgiving late summer heat.
Grilled Cabbage With Spicy Thai Dressing
When you grill cabbage, it's transformed into something totally new—tender and crisp, smoky and sweet. All of those layers are great for absorbing a spicy dressing of chili, garlic, fish sauce, and herbs.
Steak Salad With Cucumber, Peppers, and Spicy Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
This spicy and refreshing summer salad can be yours in less than 30 minutes—just slice up rare-cooked steak; combine it with fresh cucumbers, peppers, and herbs; and coat the whole thing in a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, and chilies.
Kofte Kebabs With Spicy Harissa Yogurt Sauce and Grilled Flatbread (Minced Lamb Kebabs)
Made with minced meat, these kofte kebabs stay moist, and their seasoning—a mix of cumin, coriander, ginger, fresh herbs, and other ingredients to add pungency and kick—is built right in. And that's even before you add the cool-but-hot harissa-spiked yogurt sauce on the side. Start the kebabs on the hot side of the grill so that they don't fall apart, then move them to the cool side to finish.
Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad With Cucumbers, Red Peppers, and Basil (Vegan)
This version of cold peanut noodles skews more vegetable than noodle, with the latter providing mostly textural contrast to all the crunch supplied by cucumber, pepper, and bean sprouts. Fresh herbs and a sweet, salty, and spicy peanut sauce finish it off.
Sichuan-Style Wontons in Hot and Sour Vinegar and Chili Oil Sauce (Suanla Chaoshou)
Homemade wontons stuffed with pork, scallions, and garlic swim happily in a sauce of chilies, peppercorns, and vinegar in this flavor-packed dish. Store-bought wonton skins make stuffing and folding easier, giving you more time to revel in the hot and sour, spicy and tender fruits of your labor.
Grilled Mexican Chorizo With Spicy Tomato Caper Sauce
For a grilled dish that bursts with flavor, grill fresh Mexican chorizo sausages to perfection, then top them with an easy homemade tomato sauce with capers, olives, and cilantro. Most of the work here, even for the sauce, is done on the grill, so your kitchen won't turn into a hotbox.
Thai-Style Spicy Chicken, Banana Blossom, and Herb Salad (With Lots of Fried Things)
Juicy poached chicken and crunchy banana blossom are a terrific way to start a Thai-inspired salad, and, admittedly, a topping of crispy fried things (in this case, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and lime leaves) never hurts. The spice comes in with a bright dressing of chili, lime, and garlic, which is tossed with the chicken before the other ingredients are incorporated, allowing it to soak up even more moisture and flavor. You can substitute thinly shaved cabbage if banana blossom is unavailable.
Isan-Style Spicy Thai Fried Pork Rind and Herb Salad
What, you've never had a pork rind salad before? Okay, it sounds like a contradiction in terms, but you can in fact turn packaged rinds into a truly exotic and exciting salad in just 10 minutes. Herbs and bean sprouts balance out the rich chicharrones with freshness, and a spicy, sweet, acidic Thai-style dressing imparts big flavor.
Spicy Rice Noodle Salad With Cabbage and Tofu
It's cool, it's crunchy, it's spicy, it's sweet, it's sour, it's chewy—in short, this salad is totally addictive. Even better, it can be pulled together in just 15 minutes. Mix a base of fresh sliced cabbage with rice noodles, sliced tofu, peanuts, and a dressing of fish sauce, garlic, lime, and sugar for an excellent summertime main.
Jicama and Pomelo Salad With Spicy Thai Dressing (Vegan)
Crunchy jicama and bittersweet pomelo combine with a hot, sweet, and sour dressing for a vegan Thai-style salad that's quick, hearty, make-ahead, and anything but boring.
Grilled Spicy Chicken Wings With Soy and Fish Sauce
These smoky and spicy grilled wings begin with an overnight marinade in soy sauce, fish sauce, spices, and Shaoxing wine. Once they've soaked up all that flavor, the wings are grilled first over indirect heat, then finished on the hot side for a crispy exterior.
Harissa Chickpeas With Fried Eggs
One-pot chickpeas with spicy harissa sauce, topped with crispy fried eggs, makes a flavorful breakfast or a super-quick weeknight dinner. Peppery arugula adds a crunchy raw element to counter the full-bodied chickpeas and eggs and the harissa's heat. Serve with toasted pita to mop up all of the yolk and sauce.
Korean Spicy Marinated Pork With Chilies and Kimchi (Jaeyook Kimchi Bokum)
After a couple of hours of marinating in a blend of chili paste, garlic, Asian pear, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil, thin strips of pork are quick-cooked in a wok with onion, green pepper, and chili. And, just to make sure you really sweat, a healthy dose of kimchi is added to the mix.
Thai Spicy Duck Salad
Grilled duck can be wonderful on its own—moist and smoky, with a lovely crisped skin. But it also transitions extremely well into a cool salad when sliced up and mixed with pineapple, cilantro, red onion, and nutty cashews. Top it off with a tangy-and-kicky dressing of lime, fish sauce, and chili.
Spicy Shrimp and Green Apple Salad
Poached shrimp, tart green apples, and tomatoes form the base of this salad, which picks up its exotic flavors and textures from mint, cashews, and a spicy, citrusy dressing. The apples are a natural stand-in for hard-to-find green mangoes, and using dried red pepper instead of fresh chilies lends a smoky element.
Vegan Dan Dan Noodles
Can Dan Dan noodles be made without the pork and still be incredibly tasty? This recipe is a resounding yes. Fried mushrooms and a chili oil–spiked sauce create a meaty texture, lending all of the chew and spice you'd demand from the classic version. It'll take a food processor and a few special ingredients from a Chinese market, but you can get this dish done in 20 minutes.
Isan-Style Thai Sliced Steak Salad
A mortar and pestle is best for extracting real flavor out of the garlic and chilies used to make this salad's fiery dressing, but a blender will do in a pinch. That dressing gets tossed with sliced steak, tomatoes, onions, and fried lemongrass for a complete summer meal. A couple of handfuls of fresh basil and mint, thrown in at the end, make it extra refreshing.
Spicy Warm Silken Tofu With Celery and Cilantro Salad
This recipe is super easy, but it's also full of complex flavors and balanced heat. Warm tofu is dressed with a mix of chili oil, sugar, tahini, and Chinkiang vinegar, available at most Asian grocers. The salad of celery, scallions, and cilantro on top adds bright flavors and crunchy texture.