Food & Drink

Browse the ‘Chile Pepper Bible’ before you buy it

By Joan Leotta

For The Sun News

If you are looking for the ultimate explanation of the what, how and why of adding heat to your mealtimes, The Chile Pepper Bible is the book for you. Part One is "all About Chiles." This section alone is enough to make any lover of hot food want to read the book. There is so much information here that I did not know about the category as a whole! Author Judith Finlayson tells us about the benefits of eating hot peppers and offers an easy-to-use guide to selecting peppers for use in our kitchens.

In answer why should we ratchet up the heat in our diet, Finlayson (a veteran cookbook writer residing in Toronto, Canada) says, "Chilies are highly antimicrobial." She notes that before the era of refrigeration hot peppers helped reduce pathogens in food. They are also nutrient dense and the capsaicin in peppers (the origin of the heat) has been shown to reduce inflammation and promote healing. She lists a number of conditions, ranging from arthritis to psoriasis for which studies have shown peppers to help healing; she also notes that the ancient Mayans used chilies to aid respiratory conditions. (Note: I do not endorse using peppers as a cure.)

Section two, "The Types of Chiles," is, I think, the most valuable part of this book. So many chilies, so little time! Findlayson manages to cover the world in her four-part descriptions of more chilies than I ever knew existed. She gives the name, heat level, physical description and a brief overview for each type catalogues here. The overview includes things like where that particular pepper originates, how that pepper is usually used, if it has a sweet component in addition to its heat, and more.

Oddly, because I am a fan of her recipes in her other cookbooks, part three, which contains the recipes, was a bit disappointing. Yes, the organization is good, standard and within chapters by type of chile pepper. However, I was a bit disappointed in the recipes themselves. It seemed that many of them were recipes I already make with an added shake or two of pepper (albeit, red to black and other types) added. I have to admit though, that I see many different recipes, so this might not be your experience. However, with both brand new recipes and also with adjusted traditional recipes, her notes, especially the "Chile Savvy" at the bottom make all of these recipes are valuable—offering insight into the why and how of even recipes I make often, like the hot and sour soup below. Although her recipe is very similar to the one I already use, I will probably switch to hers mainly because of the insights she provides on the use of pepper.

So, while this book is not a slam-dunk on all counts it could be a valued addition to your cooking reference section. Before you invest in it, take a look at it in a bookstore or at the library to be sure that you either value the pepper section enough to buy it for that, and you feel the recipes offers enough variation from your own recipe box to merit including this one on your shelf.

At A Glance

Title | The Chile Pepper Bible; From Fiery to Sweet and Everything in Between

Author | Judith Finlayson

Publisher | Robert Rose Press

Cost | $27.95

Hot and Sour Mushroom Soup

Reprinted from Chile Pepper Bible by Judith Findlayson, with permission of publisher, Robert Rose.

Note from author: In Chinese medicine, which is fundamentally based on the balancing principles of yin and yang, heating foods are those that warm the body, feeding it with energy. Balance, which includes establishing equilibrium among the five flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter an), helps the body’s vital spirit, called qi, to flow freely and support excellent health. Need I say more? Hot, sour, salty, sweet and loaded with umami from the soy sauce and mushrooms, which are also known to strengthen the immune system, this soup has all the makings of a restorative tonic. And it tastes good, too. Vegan Friendly Gluten-Free Friendly.


4 dried shiitake mushrooms

Boiling water

1tbsp oil

1tbsp minced garlic

1 tbsp minced gingerroot

8 oz trimmed fresh shiitake mushrooms

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1⁄2 to 1 red finger chile, cut into paper-thin rings

4 cups mushroom or beef stock

1⁄4 cup soy sauce

1⁄4 cup Chinese black rice vinegar

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp thinly sliced green onions (white and green parts)


In a heatproof bowl, soak dried mushrooms in boiling water for 30 minutes, weighing down with a cup to ensure they remain submerged. Drain and discard liquid. Slice mushrooms thinly and set aside.

In a large saucepan or stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add soaked dried mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, bell pepper, and finger chile to taste. Cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about five minutes. (Mushrooms shouldn’t be fully cooked at this point.)

Add stock, soy sauce and vinegar and stir well. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for until flavors are infused, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil.

Ladle into warm serving bowls. Garnish with green onions. Serve immediately.


Be sure to use gluten-free soy sauce or wheat-free tamari if you are making this soup for someone who is sensitive to gluten.

Makes 4 servings

Chile Savvy

Bitterness is an important flavor in this soup. The sweet red bell pepper balances that component, adding lovely complexity.