You hear the word chili and immediately think of dishes that bring tears to the eyes and sweat to the brow. This is a delight to some, but a torment to others. In Taiwan, the food of China’s Sichuan or Hunan provinces comes to mind, with their tongue numbing power and vibrant crimson color scheme. But while the red-hots are the prima donnas of the chili world, their oft-neglected milder relatives have plenty to offer in terms of flavor. So now that various members of the wide-ranging clan called the genus Capsicum are hitting the market shelves in a big way, it is a chance to remember that there are many shy and retiring members who also deserve our attention.
Cow horn chilies (角椒) are one of these mild-mannered chilies that are widely available in Taiwan at the moment. They are most famously served in the dish of pork stuffed cow horn chilies (角椒鑲肉), a delicious and rather sophisticated side dish that balances a slightly sweet stuffing of minced pork with the very slight spice of the chilies. But cow horns have many applications, and I have used them for a slightly toned-down version of my Chicken Liver Picante (Taipei Times, Sept 3, 2016) to good effect.
These chilies look a little like emaciated green capsicum, with the same matte green coloring and oddly contoured lines, but built on a more elongated frame. While there is a resemblance, they are in fact from different families, and the capsicum is totally devoid of the chili’s signature element of capsaicin, which is what makes chilies “hot.” The green cow horns are a branch of the cayenne cultivar, which is probably best known as the dried spice cayenne pepper that is used to pep up many dishes in a wide variety of cuisines. The green cow horn chilies that I have come across so far have only had a very mild heat, but it is worth noting that the heat level of chilies can vary quite significantly even within the same variety. If you are sensitive even to slight heat, careful removal of the seeds, and particularly the white pith that holds the seeds, will keep the heat in check. The pith is where the capsaicin is most concentrated and its removal can greatly reduce the sharpness of the chili’s bite while preserving other flavors.
So even if you are not a big fan of spicy food, the cow horn and other similar chilies are a good source of the many good effects that chili has on our health and wellbeing. Chilies are excellent sources of many vitamins, particularly B group vitamins and also Vitamin C. Chinese medical lore attributes many good effect from the moderate ingestion of chili, not least as an aid to digestion and stimulating appetite, and medical science has come to support this with a number of studies showing long term health benefits of occasionally eating spicy food.
Pork Schnitzel with Yogurt Stuffed Cow Horn Chilies
Wiener schnitzel is a much abused dish which doubtless has its grand traditions, but I am perfectly happy to put these aside in the interests of convenience and the consumption of breaded meat. The pork available in Taiwan is perfectly serviceable, and indeed delicious, substitute for the traditional veal, and while copious quantities of butter do indeed impart a luxurious richness to the final product, good, clean vegetable oil is easier to use and produces a result that is very acceptable without the danger of burnt butter. I generally have a quantity of strained yogurt in the fridge, which I usually salt for longer life, which is excellent for cooked dishes such as the stuffed chilies. It can get quite tangy, but for me this is part of the appeal. Feel free to use strained yogurt of more recent vintage. A good strong yogurt is a great counterpoint to the slight pungency of the chilies, and the bacon and cheese provide lovely depth of flavor, and the whole thing mashed over the breaded meat is one of my own perfect comfort foods.