Cooking with hot sauce or peppers is a simple way to give recipes some kick. The foods also boost diners' metabolism and increase their senses of being full.
I stumbled upon this weight-loss secret weapon years ago. Formerly a spice-averse eater, I began dunking everything I ate in hot sauce after I dieted successfully for a while. Nobody was more surprised by this shift than I, but after reducing the saturated fats in my diet and losing 90 pounds, my body demanded a different flavor.
Chef-turned-bodybuilder Kevin DeMarco wasn't surprised to hear this. Fat is a flavor that serves a function in a dish, he says. It is a glue that pulls a dish together, like bricks and mortar in a house. So when fat is reduced in a dish, something needs to take its place. Hot sauce and spices became my new foundation for food. After I grew accustomed to spicy foods, conventionally "unhealthy" foods became less appealing by comparison: these high-calorie items were fattening and tasted boring. I went on to lose a total of 200 pounds.
This year's Progress in Drug Research journal reported capsaicin, the chemical that provides heat and the standard measure for hot sauce intensity, increases the body's fat-burning process. In 2013, the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology found that capsaicin improved satiety and increased energy expenditure.
Thanks to its variety of hot sauces, Louisiana is an excellent place to make health food with a kick. Using spices and a jar of Pickapeppa, I took my cues from Middle Eastern cooking but served the yogurt in a manner similar to that seen at Latino markets.
A recipe for Syrian labneh with fresh mango is the result: a gattling-gun pop of garlic, mint and heat in quick succession. Yogurt provides a thick, smooth foil to mango's delicate body, serving as a fruit accompaniment or a fascinating marinade for grilled chicken or lamb.
Syrian Labneh with fresh mango
Sliced mango and jicama for dipping
8 ounces nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon Sumac
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Hot sauce (recommended brand: Pickapeppa)
Slice mango and jicama into strips and segments and set aside. The easiest technique is to peel the mango and cut off an end point to reveal the core. Using a light grip to avoid bruising the fruit, run the blade along the core to remove the fruit, rotate the fruit again and cut until the flesh is removed from the core. Select fruit that is not fully ripe for easier slicing.
Finely dice mint, cutting extra for garnish.
Pour yogurt into a mixing bowl. Add mint and spices and stir. Taste once to ensure each ingredient's flavor is distinct except the yogurt — its tang should disappear with the salt, and the pepper's heat should slowly build after swallowing. Add salt and pepper.
To serve, place yogurt in a dipping bowl and drizzle fruit with hot sauce. Offer toothpicks or small forks for piercing the fruit.
Per serving: calories 117; fat 0.3 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 29 mg; potassium 194.8 mg; total carbohydrate 22.9 g (fiber 2.2 g, sugar 2.6g ); protein 6.6 g.