Add some spice for a longer life and banish summer weather blues

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The news was good this week for lovers of spicy food.

Apparently eating chilli and spice laced food could prolong your life, with a 14% reduced risk of death if you partake three to seven days a week. People who consumed fresh chilli tended, according to the survey by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, to have a lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer and diabetes. What better excuse for reaching for the chillis, ginger and spices?

My first job was working in a restaurant in Aghadowey called MacDuff’s, when I was 14. At that time, in the early eighties, food here was still very much of the school that believed in plain meat and plenty of spuds.

The owner of the restaurant, Joey, used to grind his own spices to make curry. To my lily white palate, this concoction was like eating rocket fuel, but I persevered and learnt to love the sultry flavours evocative of far off exotic places. Purchasing whole spices and grinding them yourself was virtually unheard of back then and this innovation attracted customers from miles around.

The only kind of whole chillis you could get then were dried but we’ve now realised it’s possible to grow chillis successfully in this country, without the need to import. Despite the rain and grey skies this sunny ingredient will sprout its fruit in a green house or poly tunnel to great effect. That way you can also control their growth without pesticides. The Scoville scale measures the heat in chillis with a mild green chilli at the bottom of the scale and a nuclear like ghost chilli at the top!

For me spicing should be gentle with a slight kick, to tantalize the taste buds, not annihilate them.

When you combine the warm zing of chilli with zesty fresh ginger, sultry spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and fennel, and fresh herbs and citrus, you create something that really awakens your taste buds and is great for you at the same time. These flavours don’t need salt or fat to pep up your cooking, they pack a punch all on their own.

The first recipe this week is for carrot fritters. It’s gluten free as it uses gram flour (made from ground chickpeas), which is available in most supermarkets and health food shops. It’s spiced with turmeric which is a great cleanser and ginger which is good for digestion.

My other recipe is for a lamb curry but using lamb mince, which is relatively inexpensive, shaped into meatballs. Garam Masala is a spice mixture that has a fragrant warmth. If you only have one spice blend in your cupboard this would be a good choice.

We’ve had the worst summer in 22 years apparently so a bit of chilli and spice won’t do any harm to try and liven it up a bit!