Our Favorite Chile Pepper Recipes for Every Spice Level

Right up until the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in the New World, peppers were tucked away in Latin America. Now chiles are grown throughout the world and the end of summer brings an explosion of different colors, types, and varieties to market. It’s a dream for the spice devotee. But as any lover will tell you, chile peppers are so much more than their mind-numbing, tongue-burning, blazing heat. 

Underneath the capsicum’s addictive, mouth-scorching fire is a base of floral, fruity, or sometimes sweet flavors. Generally, the smaller the pepper, the spicier it is. Slender jawla chiles or bird’s eyes have a fruity, peppery accent that intensifies curries and chutneys. It’s easy to see why New Mexico’s hooked on Hatch chiles, the fire-roasted fleshy pepper is found everywhere, laced atop enchiladas, burritos, and everything in between. Mastering Jamaican Jerk requires taming the Caribbean Scotch Bonnet: the floral powerhouse of Scoville terror. Entire walls are dedicated to dried chile peppers in Mexican markets, where the flavors run the gamut from smoky to spicy, to citrusy, chocolaty, earthy, and mushroomy. 

Whether you’re picking your hard-earned harvests or exploring all your grocer has to offer, here’s how to take advantage of their unique flavors in every recipe.

Chili Oil
Matt Taylor-Gross

A toasty, subtly fiery chile oil to drizzle over soup or dip with dumplings. It’s worth making a large batch; the oil will keep at room temperature for a year. Get the recipe for Sichuan Chile Oil »

Chile-Pomegranate Paloma
Matt Taylor-Gross

While the margarita is far better known, the grapefruit-, tequila-, and soda-based Paloma is an equally refreshing Mexican classic. Using árbol chile-spiked grenadine as a sweetener—rather than agave nectar or simple syrup—adds smokiness and a touch of heat. Get the recipe for Chile-Pomegranate Paloma »

Ancho Chile Soup with Avocado, Crema, and Chile Pasilla (Sopa de Chile Ancho)
Joseph De Leo

The heat of this deep-red ancho chile soup and its pasilla chile garnish is balanced by the addition of cooling crema and thinly sliced avocado. Get the recipe for Ancho Chile Soup with Avocado, Crema, and Chile Pasilla (Sopa de Chile Ancho) »

Chimayo Chile Dry Rub
Matt Taylor-Gross

The key ingredient to this rub is Chimayó chile, an heirloom varietal that tastes slightly of curry powder, harvested in the town of Chimayó in New Mexico. Use it to help tenderize meat and give grilled flavors a jolt of spice. Get the recipe for Chimayó Chile Rub »

Black Eyed Pea Hummus, Senegalese Thanksgiving
Ryen Liebe

Black-eyed peas are puréed smooth and brightened with lots of lemon juice and served with a tiny dollop of intensely aromatic shito, a Ghanian chile paste, made sweet and spicy from caramelized onions, dried seafood, and smoky chile flakes. Get the recipe for Black-Eyed Pea Hummus With West African Chile Paste »

Sesame and Chile Ramen (Tantanmen)
Todd Coleman

Toasted sesame oil and hot chile oil spice up this porky ramen. Get the recipe for Sesame and Chile Ramen (Tantanmen) »

Red Chile Enchiladas
Matt Taylor-Gross

The Gonzalez family in Las Cruces, near El Paso, makes enchiladas similar to these using an old family recipe. Get the recipe for Red Chile Enchiladas »

Salsa Roja
Farideh Sadeghin

This salsa is spicy—use it sparingly!—as any serious salsa should be. Its flavor is all chili and garlic, and does well atop nachos, burritos, and eggs. If you’re feeling daring, go for big scoops with your favorite bag of tortilla chips. Get the recipe for Chile de Arbol Salsa »

Cumin Kebabs
Matt Taylor-Gross

The staple meats of Western China, lamb and mutton can be found folded into everything from pilafs to buns to noodles. Of course, they’re also the focal point of the region’s iconic kebabs. Seasoned with freshly ground cumin (zira in Farsi and zīrán in Chinese), which was probably introduced to Xinjiang from Persia, the kebabs get an extra kick from minced garlic cloves and ground chile powder. Get the recipe for Chile and Cumin Lamb Kebabs (Yángròu chuàn) »

Ikan Balado
Ingalls Photography

In Padang, restaurants grill and fry small whole mackerel before smearing them with sambal, a spicy chile-based condiment commonly used in all kinds of chile pepper recipes. We find that the skin-on fillets of larger fish work just as well. This recipe first appeared in our March 2014 issue with the story Spice World. Get the recipe for Ikan Balado (Padang-Style Grilled Mackerel with Sambal) »

Green Chili Cheese Grits
Matt Taylor-Gross

For soft, creamy, and flavorful grits, chef Harold Marmulstein of Austin’s Salty Sow cooks his low and slow, then adds a rich, spicy, bright-green purée of chiles and cilantro. Get the recipe for Green Chile Grits »

Spice-Rubbed Chicken with Duck Sauce
Laura Sant

The fiery chile-based rub on this chicken is balanced by a basting of sweet-sour duck sauce. Get the recipe for Spice-Rubbed Chicken with Duck Sauce »

Lobster Linguine with Chiles
Christina Holmes

This classic pasta, from award-winning chef Fulvio Pierangelini at his restaurant, Irene, in Florence, Italy, is enriched with the lobsters’ coral, or roe sac. It adds a pop of briny flavor to the pasta, but can be omitted if the lobsters you buy don’t contain it. Get the recipe for Lobster Linguine with Chiles »

Hatch green chile enchiladas
Matt Taylor-Gross

These are rolled enchiladas—soft corn tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken and smothered with green chile sauce and cheese. If you prefer, make “stacked” enchiladas by layering tortillas, chicken, sauce, and cheese, as if making lasagna. Get the recipe for Hatch Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas »

General Tso’s Chicken
Jenny Huang

In this American Chinese classic, lightly battered chicken is tossed in a sweet, slightly spicy sauce. Though not traditional, apricot jam adds a welcome note of acidity and pop of color. Get the recipe for General Tso’s Chicken »

Pikliz sauce
Matt Taylor-Gross

The key to great pikliz, a spicy slaw made with cabbage and other vegetables, is time. The longer the sturdy, crunchy vegetables soak up the vinegar and citrus, the better. Serve it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on everything from eggs to steak. Get the recipe for Spicy Haitian Cabbage Slaw »

Grilled-Chile Dip with Shallots and Garlic (Nam Phrik Num)

Austin Bush

A mortar and pestle is key to getting the right texture for this beloved northern Thai chile dip. Reprinted from The Food of Northern Thailand. Get the recipe for Grilled-Chile Dip with Shallots and Garlic (Nam Phrik Num) »

Watercress with Spicy Chile and Sesame Vinaigrette
Justin Walker

Peppery watercress, nutty sesame seeds, and earthy Korean chile flakes are brought together by an easy lemon vinaigrette in this simple cold-weather salad. Get the recipe for Watercress with Spicy Chile and Sesame Vinaigrette »

Four Pepper Jelly
Farideh Sadeghin

Jalapeños, red bell peppers, poblanos, and serrano chiles come together in this spicy-sweet jelly from Elizabeth Stark, the blogger behind Brooklyn Supper. It’s perfect paired with rich meats, spread on sandwiches, or served on a cheese-and-cracker spread. Get the recipe for Four Pepper Jelly »

Korean Clam Soup
Matt Taylor-Gross

A simple, light soup not short on heat or spice. Get the recipe for Korean Spicy Clam Soup »

Charred Chile Daiquiri
Eric Medsker

The Daiquiri is an adaptable creature, and it welcomes new companions in the form of bitters, infused simple syrups, or salty-sweet rims. This version keeps the classic’s sour formula, but adds a veil of spice lent from serrano- and jalapeño-infused sugar syrup. Get the recipe for Charred Chile Daiquiri »

Shrimp and Chile Oil
Jenny Huang

At Hart’s in Brooklyn, the chefs use urfa biber and aleppo chile peppers to lend a smoky-spicy flavor to succulent shrimp. Get the recipe for Shrimp and Chile Oil »

Caribbean-Style Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce
Matt Taylor-Gross

Harness fiery Scotch bonnet chiles, along with sweet mango and honey, into a DIY hot sauce. Get the recipe for Caribbean-Style Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce »

Potato Jalapeño Latkes
Matt Taylor-Gross

These are classic latkes, grated potatoes bound with matzo meal and egg, but the simple addition of jalapeño adds a new kick to an old Jewish classic. Medina serves his jalapeno latkes with a tangy, cooling horseradish cream. Get the recipe for Potato Jalapeño Latkes »

Hawaiian chile water
Matt Taylor-Gross

Hawaiian chiles are traditional in this tangy, piquant condiment—hence the name—but Thai chiles also work well. Get the recipe for Hawaiian Chile Pepper Water with Soy and Fish Sauce »

Hawaiian chile water
Matt Taylor-Gross

A batch of this spicy, tangy condiment in the fridge is money in the bank for Hawaiian home cooks. Get the recipe for Hawaiian Chile Pepper Water with Garlic and Vinegar »

Pommes Tapées with Jalapeño Vinaigrette
Joann Pai

Lightly smashed and crisped potatoes soak up a jalaleno-anchovy dressing. Get the recipe for Pommes Tapées with Jalapeño Vinaigrette »

Chili lemon mushroom
Matt Taylor-Gross

Mixed mushrooms are tossed with chile-lemon oil and roasted, resulting in a flavorful, umami-packed dish. Get the recipe for Roasted Mushrooms with Chile-Lemon Oil »

Pique sauce
Matt Taylor-Gross

Puerto Rican pique is a seasoned vinegar, a simple blend of chilies, garlic, and spices (with pineapple usually added for sweetness) that gets better the longer it sits. Get the recipe for Puerto Rican Spicy Vinegar (Pique) »

Vegetarian Jamaican Pepper Pot Soup
Matt Taylor-Gross

This vegetarian soup, a Jamaican classic, is made with callaloo, a spinach-like green that can be found canned or fresh in Caribbean groceries. Serve with minced fresh Scotch bonnet chiles sprinkled on top for extra heat. Get the recipe for Pepper Pot Soup »

Chilean Tomato and Pepper Sauce (Pebre)
Justin Walker

Distantly related to Mexican salsa, pebre is an emulsified blend of tomatoes, peppers, and vinegar traditionally served with bread rolls in Santiago. Get the recipe for Chilean Tomato and Pepper Sauce (Pebre) »

Steamed Grouper in Chile Oil
Michael Turek

Calabrian chiles and chile paste produce a fiery, brick-red oil that is spooned over delicate steamed fish, crunchy spring vegetables, and fregola, a Sardinian pasta similar to Israeli couscous. Get the recipe for Steamed Grouper in Chile Oil »

Oxtail and Guajillo Chile Stew (Caldo de Res)
Todd Coleman

Infused with guajillo chiles, this nourishing, slow-cooked stew is usually made with various tough cuts of beef, but we found oxtails to be the most flavorful choice. Stock dried guajillos in the pantry for instant access to smoky flavor for any of your chile pepper recipes. Get the recipe for Oxtail and Guajillo Chile Stew (Caldo de Res) »

Senegalese Thanksgiving, Collard Greens
Ryan Liebe

Greens laced with freshly ground peanut butter and fermented seafood for a funky umami kick is a common one-pot dish in West Africa. Get the recipe for “Creamed”Collard Greens with Peanut Butter and Chile »

Cilantro, Chile, and Pineapple Sangrita
Matt Taylor-Gross

Chile pepper recipes aren’t limited to just dinner. This flavor-packed sipper is served alongside a neat glass of tequila at La Mezcaleria in Ajijic, Mexico. Do as many Mexicans do: A sip of tequila, a sip of sangrita—repeat, for the best experience. Get the recipe for Cilantro, Chile, and Pineapple Sangrita »

Spicy Hot Chocolate
Matt Taylor-Gross

This mix goes way beyond the typical flavors with umami Chinese fermented black bean chile paste and chile powder for a spicy, savory hot cocoa that delivers a kick of heat to the back of your throat. This is one hot cocoa that doesn’t taste like anything else you’ve ever tried. Get the recipe for Spicy Hot Chocolate With Fermented Chile Paste »

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