November 2022
Local Food
Chef Molly Beverly

Mustard and Chiles Heat Up the Holidays

What do mustard and chiles have

in common?

Heat: Without actually being

hot, they create the physical sensation of heat.

Health: They are both rich in health-giving


Holiday: Both make exciting holiday eating

and homemade gifts.

What is mustard?

The brassica family contains cabbage, kale,

Brussels sprouts, arugula, turnips and mustard.

Here we are talking about mustard seeds.

They come in yellow (milder), brown

(medium) or black (more potent). You’ve

probably had “prepared mustard” like

French’s or Dijon made with ground

mustard seed or maybe you’ve tried German

mustard with the seeds still visible.

Mustard seeds are impotent until

they are crushed and mixed with water.

That starts an enzymatic cascade resulting

in the creation of mustard oil, allyl

isothiocyanate (aka AITC), the chemical

responsible for that breathtakingly pungent

punch. AITC protects the plant from

predators (like us), but it is also harmful to

the plant itself, so it is stored away in a clever

mechanism that it is activated only when


Mustard, specifically AITC, has a long list

of health benefits that protect the body from

disease and damage by helping prevent cancer,

lowering cholesterol, balancing insulin levels

and reducing inflammation. It’s a decongestant,

antibacterial, antifungal, reduces pain

and strengthens bones. So enjoy the burn!

The heat in chiles

The chemical that gives chile peppers

their heat, capsaicin, is different. Humans

seem to love the burn, so we have cultivated

and spread chiles worldwide.

Why do we love them so? Capsaicin

tricks the body into thinking it is on fire. It

interacts with a protein on the tongue that

usually senses heat. Your brain responds by

sending out pain-killing endorphins and pleasure-

giving dopamine. Together they trigger a

nice high sense of well-being.

According to a 2017 study from the University

of Vermont and a 2015 study published

in the British Medical Journal, regular

chile eaters have less cancer, diabetes, obesity

and cardiovascular inflammation, and live

longer lives.

Chiltepin, the mother of all peppers, is

the original pepper that has been selected and

hybridized for centuries to give us hundreds

of modern varieties. It can be found growing

near Tumacacori, Arizona. Chiltepins are ferociously

hot to us and other mammals who

would chew up their

seeds. But it’s not hot at

all to birds who swallow

the seeds whole, then

disperse them with a nice

poop of fertilizer.

Red peppers, sweet

or hot, are the ripe version

of green. The ripening

increases sweetness

and aroma, making them

seem more like fruit and

less like a vegetable. Red

peppers are in season now. I am an enthusiastic

red-pepper lover and this pepper jam is a

great way to preserve them. Make it hot or

sweet to your taste, but be sure to use fresh

(not dried) sweet red peppers and hot red


How do you tell how hot peppers are?

Remove the stem and take a little nibble.

Heat is concentrated in the seeds and in the

white membrane.


Mustard and chiles are daily reminders

that life is exhilarating. Online I have two incarnations

— Smoky Honey Mustard and

Red Chile Jam — that deliver. They’re simple

and inexpensive to make, and will knock the

socks off your family and friends. Pack them

up for stellar gifts to be enjoyed, savored and

rejoiced over.

Smoked Honey Mustard

This mustard is full of harmonic dissonance, a mixture of love and alarm. Give me more! It’s strong and smoky, sweet and pungent, and particularly enchanting with smoked meats or cheeses. I love it on a BLT.

This is a fermented recipe, giving the added boost of lactobacillus, the same probiotic found in yogurt. Start it three days in advance so these beneficial bacteria have a head start. Use cold water. Cold water makes mustard hotter and hot water halts the enzymatic reaction that creates AITC and flavor potency. Makes 2 cups.

¼ cup whole brown mustard seeds*

¼ cup whole yellow mustard seeds*

½ cup cold water

¼ cup plain, unsweetened yogurt (dairy- or plant-based) or live kombucha

2 tablespoons ground mustard*

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons liquid smoke

¼ cup cider vinegar

¼ cup honey

Grind the mustard seeds coarsely in a spice grinder or blender. Pour them into a one-pint glass jar. Add the cold water and the yogurt or kombucha. Mix. Seal jar tightly and set aside at room temperature for three days. Stir in the mustard powder, salt, garlic powder, liquid smoke, cider vinegar and honey. Refrigerate. Mixture will thicken as it sits. This mixture has a tendency to separate, so shake before using.

* Natural Grocers carries ground mustard and mustard seed.

** Because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties, mustard is food safe at room temperature, but room temperature will destroy the pungency. Refrigerate for maximum quality.

Red Pepper Chile Jam

This four-ingredient jam recipe produces a sparkling red, fresh-flavored condiment that emphasizes the natural sweetness of the peppers. I love it with cheese and crackers, and it’s stunning over cheesecake. Make a lot, bottle it up and enjoy treating your friends to this winter treat. Makes 2 cups.  

For this recipe I chop the sweet peppers, then mix in hot chiles to taste. While the jam simmers I taste again and add chiles until the balance is perfect.

1¼ pounds red peppers, a combination of sweet and hot chiles, to taste

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup water or as needed

Remove the stems and seeds from the sweet peppers. Cut into large pieces. Remove the stems from the hot peppers. Leave the seeds in for a hotter version, or remove them for a milder version. (Be careful, or wear gloves. Capsaicin oils from hot chilies can burn your skin.) Chop the sweet peppers and hot peppers separately in a food processor (or by hand) until they are finely chopped, but not ground. Keep them separate.

Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Hold out some of the hot chilies. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Taste and adjust heat by adding more hot chilies. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes, adding more water if needed to keep the mixture from drying out. Set aside for 4–8 hours. Using a strainer, drain all liquid into a bowl. Set solids aside.

Return liquid to the pan and bring it to a boil. Cook until it thickens into a syrup. Stand by, and watch very closely — this burns easily. Add the pepper solids, bring to a rolling boil and turn off immediately.

Hot-pack into sterilized glass jars with new lids. The lids should seal as the jam cools. If sealed, the jam can be stored at room temperature. Alternatively, freeze or refrigerate.

Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.