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. Inhabitants of especially hot regions—think Southeast Asia, North Africa, and parts of Mexico—figured this out long ago, and many of the peppery dishes, condiments, and drinks below are influenced by their cuisines. Not only are cold chili-infused noodles, mouth-numbing salads, and spiced grilled meats fascinatingly delicious, they'll also help you chill out during a wave of unforgiving late-summer heat. And if it's not exactly hot where you are right now? You can still cozy up to a bowl of penne arrabbiata (as hot as you want it, depending on how much red pepper you add) or Thai-style phat bai horapha (beef with basil and chilies) and enjoy the spice on its own merits.
For more essential information on adding heat to your cooking, check out some of our favorite lesser-known fresh chilies and Kenji's favorite hot sauces, read up on how to cook with dried chilies, and dive into the wide world of Indonesian chili pastes, like sambal oelek.
Steak Salad With Cucumber, Peppers, and Spicy Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
This spicy, refreshing salad can be yours in less than 30 minutes and makes a perfect not-too-heavy summer dinner. 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.
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 also 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.
Thai-Style Beef With Basil and Chilies (Phat Bai Horapha)
Phat ka-phrao is more common on Thai-restaurant menus in the US, but can be tough to make at home here, due to the scarcity of a key ingredient: big handfuls of holy basil. A more accessible and no less delicious alternative is phat bai horapha, or stir-fried beef with basil (Thai purple or ordinary sweet basil is fine) and chilies. As with all curry pastes, the one called for in this recipe will have the best flavor if you make it the old-fashioned way, using a mortar and pestle. (Check out our highly nerdy exploration of mortar and pestle styles to find out which type is best suited for which job.)
Korean Spicy Marinated Pork With Chilies and Kimchi (Jaeyook Kimchi Bokum)
This Korean-style dish of stir-fried pork is as easy as it is fiery. After a couple of hours spent 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, along with onion, scallion, and fresh Korean green chili pepper. And, just to make sure you really sweat, a healthy dose of kimchi is added to the mix.
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 pork rinds into a truly exciting salad in just 10 minutes. Tomatoes, herbs, and bean sprouts balance out the rich chicharrones with freshness, and a spicy, sweet, acidic Thai-style dressing imparts big flavor.
Grilled Mexican Chorizo With Spicy Tomato Caper Sauce
For an easy dish that bursts with flavor, we love to grill fresh Mexican chorizo sausages, 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. Our tips for grilling sausages will help you produce tasty links that won't burst open on the grate.
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 sweet Chinkiang 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.
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.
Extra-Crispy Fried Chicken With Caramelized Honey and Spice
This is a fried chicken for people who are serious about their fried chicken. It starts with a whole bird broken down into parts, which lets you keep the breast bone-in for juicier meat. The light, craggy coating comes from Italian fine "00" flour mixed with some of the buttermilk brine, and frying at a relatively low temperature allows plenty of time for moisture evaporation, resulting in a super-crunchy crust. A drizzle of honey butter and a coating of spice dust, heavy on árbol chilies, give the chicken its final sweet, rich, and spicy flavor.
Real-Deal Kung Pao Chicken
This version of kung pao chicken is a far cry from the takeout-style dish you may have eaten at Chinese restaurants in the States—it's a potent combination of pungent, fiery, and numbing, thanks to toasted Sichuan peppercorns and fermented chili bean paste. The chicken thigh meat is marinated in a flavorful mixture of soy sauce and Shaoxing wine before it's stir-fried in a wok, along with peanuts and hot Chinese chilies, for the high heat and inimitable whiff of smokiness that only a wok can provide. Though, if we're being honest, this milder, simpler kung pao chicken is perhaps even truer to the original Sichuan dish—and if all you're after is a re-creation of the takeout kung pao of your youth, we've got a recipe for that, too.
Grilled Spicy Chicken Wings With Soy and Fish Sauce
Grilled or fried Buffalo wings may be an American standard, but the depth of flavor in these smoky and spicy grilled wings could easily give them a run for their money. We start by marinating the chicken overnight in soy sauce, fish sauce, spices, and Shaoxing wine, then grill the wings, first over indirect heat and finally over the hot side for a crispy exterior.
Baked Chicken Wings With Tamarind-Ginger Glaze
For crisp-skinned chicken wings any time of year, your oven can be just as handy as your grill if you start with the right recipe. In this one, we coat the wings with a spicy, tart, and smoky glaze of Kashmiri red chilies, tamarind paste, palm sugar, and fresh ginger before baking them on a sheet tray—preheating the tray helps keep the meat from sticking. Serve these wings with a cooling cucumber raita on the side.
Hot and Numbing Xi'an-Style Oven-Fried Chicken Wings
Another take on oven-baked wings, these get their exceptionally crispy skin from an overnight rest with baking powder and salt, one of our favorite tricks for achieving a crackly exterior on all kinds of poultry. The wings are spiced with a mixture of tingly Sichuan peppercorns, smoky red pepper flakes, cumin, and fennel seed. You can use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind the spices, but do make sure to toast them first for the best flavor.
Thai-Style Spicy Chicken, Banana Blossom, and Herb Salad (With Lots of Fried Things)
Juicy poached chicken and crunchy banana blossom make a terrific way to start a Thai-inspired salad, and, admittedly, a topping of crispy fried things (in this case, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and makrut 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.
Hot and Numbing Sichuan Chicken Salad (Bang Bang Ji Si)
Whether you're making an American-style mayo-dressed salad or this mouth-tingling version with Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, sesame, and chili oil, sous vide chicken breast is the best option for chicken salad—it's incomparably moist and juicy, a rare quality in chicken breast. You won't even need to spend time banging it with a mallet (hence the name) to tenderize it; the precision cooking offered by a sous vide immersion circulator does all the work for you.
Thai Spicy Duck Salad
Grilled duck is a wonderful thing 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 juicy, sweet pineapple; refreshing cilantro; red onion; and nutty cashews. Top it off with a tangy and kicky dressing of sesame oil, lime, fish sauce, and hot Thai chilies.
Vegan Dan Dan Noodles
Can dan dan noodles be just as tasty without the pork? This recipe proves that the answer is a resounding yes. Fried mushrooms create a meaty texture without any meat; when bathed in the chili oil–spiked sauce, they lend 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 once you've got all those assembled, you can get this dish done in just 20 minutes.
Harissa Chickpeas With Fried Eggs
These one-pot chickpeas with a harissa-spiced sauce, topped with crispy fried eggs, make a flavorful and filling 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.
Penne With Hot-as-You-Dare Arrabbiata Sauce
Penne arrabbiata is a simple Italian classic—nothing more than al dente pasta tossed with an otherwise basic tomato sauce made fiery with red pepper flakes. There are very few tricks to making this dish good—just be sure to sauce your pasta properly (on the stovetop, with a splash of pasta-cooking water to help the sauce emulsify), and customize your heat level with as much or as little crushed red pepper as you like.
Stir-Fried Spring Vegetables With Black Olives and Sichuan Peppercorn
This recipe is best saved for the height of spring, when the vegetables featured here—tender, grassy asparagus and snap peas, English peas, and morel mushrooms—are in season. Not a single one of them is traditional in Sichuan cooking, but that doesn't mean they can't benefit from Sichuan flavors (and Chinese wok-cooking). A combination of Sichuan peppercorns and árbol or Chinese hot chilies brings the heat, while a surprise addition of minced black olives provides little pops of briny flavor.
Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad With Cucumbers, Red Peppers, and Basil
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, spicy, and rich peanut sauce finish it off. We prefer fresh Chinese wheat noodles in this recipe, but dried linguine or fettuccine will also work well.
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 a total winner. Even better, it can be pulled together in just 20 minutes. Mix a base of sliced fresh cabbage with rice noodles, tofu matchsticks, peanuts, and a dressing of fish sauce, garlic, lime, and sugar for an excellent warm-weather main dish.
Spicy Warm Silken Tofu With Celery and Cilantro Salad
Though this recipe is incredibly easy, it's also full of complex flavors and balanced heat. Its focus is an ingredient that isn't often celebrated in the West: silken tofu, served warm and dressed with a mix of chili oil, sugar, tahini, and Chinkiang vinegar. A mixture of celery, scallions, and cilantro on top adds bright flavors and crunchy texture.
Jicama and Pomelo Salad With Spicy Thai Dressing
Crunchy jicama and bittersweet pomelo combine with a hot, sweet, and sour dressing for a vegan Thai-style salad that's quick, hearty, and anything but boring—plus, you can make it ahead of time. For a similar but nonvegan alternative, try a summery combination of pomelo, crisp blanched green beans, and zucchini.
Grilled Cabbage With Spicy Thai Dressing
Cabbage isn't known as the sexiest of vegetables, but when you cut it in fat wedges and grill it, it's transformed into something totally new—tender and crisp, smoky and sweet. All of those layers just happen to be great for absorbing a powerful Thai-influenced dressing of chili, garlic, fish sauce, and herbs.
Homemade Harissa (With Fresh or Dried Chilies)
Although harissa, the punchy North African chili paste, is easily purchased online and found in many groceries these days, making your own at home means the heat level and accompanying flavors are 100% customizable. If you're making harissa with fresh peppers, we recommend charring the skins first to add a bit of smoke and make them easier to peel. Dried chilies—any combination of fruity, mild varieties and more aggressively hot ones—can be ground up and simmered with water and spices, then mixed with olive oil and vinegar, for a simple, basic paste that will keep in the fridge for up to a month. We've got recipes for both versions below.
Homemade Spicy Chili Crisp
This DIY version of fiery, crunchy Laoganma's Spicy Chili Crisp packs in even more texture, with big pieces of fried shallot, garlic chips, and roasted salted peanuts. A little MSG and dried-mushroom powder added to the mix serve to heighten the savory effect. It takes some time to make, but when you're done, you'll have a big batch of captivating chili crisp that you'll want to put on absolutely everything.
Extra-Hot Yucatán-Style Roasted-Habanero Salsa (Chile Tamulado)
This Yucatecan salsa isn't for the faint of heart, packing a whopping 24 habanero peppers into just three-quarters of a cup of the finished product. Be forewarned, and use it very sparingly. Charring the peppers and whole garlic cloves before blending or pounding them lends the sauce a smoky edge. In place of the more traditional but hard-to-find Seville orange juice, we use a mixture of orange, lime, and grapefruit juice. For a milder (though still very hot!) Yucatecan salsa made with toasted dried chilies, try our k'uut bi ik recipe, too.
Zhug (Yemenite Hot Sauce With Cilantro and Parsley)
This simple Middle Eastern hot sauce is especially great on falafel or sabich sandwiches, though there's no need to stop there. An array of spices and plentiful fresh cilantro and parsley balance out the spicy kick it gets from Thai bird chilies. The herbs give it a pretty bright-green color, too.
Nam Phrig Noom (Northern Thai Pounded Roasted-Chili Dip)
This ultra-flavorful Thai chili dip is often served alongside raw or cooked vegetables, boiled eggs, or crispy pork rinds. Roasted hot green chilies, such as Anaheims or Chinese long green peppers, supply plenty of heat, while lime juice, shallot, garlic, cilantro, and either fish sauce or broiled Thai shrimp paste round out the flavors. (Go for the shrimp paste if you can get it, since it'll have greater depth of flavor.)
The Perfect Michelada (Spicy Mexican Beer and Lime Cocktail)
There's no one right way to make a michelada—every component, from the type of hot sauce you use to the amount of lime juice, can be customized to your taste—but this formula is tried and true. If you've never had a michelada before, you'll be amazed at how refreshing the combination of light beer, citrus juice, and chili can be. Rub the rim with either salt alone or a chili-salt mix if you want extra spice.
Clamato Sangrita With Jalapeño and Coriander
Forget a lick of salt and a wedge of lime; sangrita is a more sophisticated, and traditional, way to accompany tequila (especially good tequila). Sangrita can be made in many different ways, but this savory combination of Clamato (a bottled tomato and clam juice cocktail), diced onion, coriander, jalapeño, lime juice, and Worcestershire feels classic.
Thai-Style Bloody Mary With Cilantro and Fried Shallots
A traditionally made Bloody Mary can carry plenty of spicy, savory kick, but this one pushes all those flavors to a new level, with fish sauce, sambal oelek, and olive brine all entering the mix. Topping the vodka cocktail off with a little beer gives the drink a pleasant effervescence, and a fried-shallot garnish makes it irresistible.
...and One (Lightly) Spicy Dessert
Tamarind and Palm Sugar Popsicles With Chili Salt
These grown-up homemade popsicles get just enough sweetness from caramelized palm sugar, but tamarind concentrate makes them tart and a final dusting of sugar, salt, and cayenne lends them an eye-opening spicy-and-sweet finish. The secret ingredient in the finishing chili salt is malic acid, which sneaks in an extra tart element—you can order it, along with the tamarind concentrate and palm sugar, online.