The leaves of the chili or cayenne plant are, contrary to their fiery-hot fruits, not hot at all but have a mild flavor and delicate texture. Chili leaves are actually my tween daughter’s favorite leafy vegetables, especially when they’re swimming in broth made of native or free roaming chicken stew or wallowing in the thick golden sauce of chicken curry.
I have just a couple of chili plants in my garden and we could not consume them fast enough as they grow very bushy in no time. Of all the leafy greens happily growing in my garden, chili leaves are the ones we get to harvest bountifully as her other leafy peers — moringa, sweet potato leaves and alugbati — get harvested by neighbors who seem to think of our garden as a communal one. (Yea, we’re good neighbors.)
You probably know by now that one of my goals for this blog is to make it into a health journal and recipe book that I can pass on to my children. This past week my heart has been swelling with joy over the fact that my tween daughter and my 7-year-old boy are already getting the hang of curtido. If you don’t know what that is, it’s lacto-fermented cabbage, carrots, garlic and onions. If you don’t know what lacto-fermentation is, then it’s the process of fermenting foods at room temperature for 3 days to a week in order to allow the good bacteria naturally present on food surfaces to multiply and in so doing produce lactic acid. Lactic acid preserves the food and gives it a wonderful tangy flavor which is what makes sauerkraut such a hit with the Germans and kimchi an all-around condiment to the Koreans.
Another goal I’ve embraced with this blog is to feature Filipino fruits and vegetables from time to time, to shed the spotlight on little-known, local produce in the hope that we would cook or eat them more often and in the process not only improve our health but also help our farmers gain a market for their crops. So far I have featured the following indigenous leafy vegetables, leaves and herbs: saluyot or jute leaves, sweet potato leaves, pandan, ginger, turmeric, etc.
Chili leaves, called dahon ng sili in the vernacular, are some of the less well-known leafy greens around. References about this leaf are sparse, though there’s this PDF document from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (link below) which has quantified the minerals found in chili leaves. Here are highlights on the nutritional profile of chili pepper according to the said paper:
Rich source of potassium
Potassium modulates the body’s water balance and regulates electrical stimulation of nerves and muscles. A potassium deficiency results in muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat and muscle cramping.
Rich source of copper
Copper is a component of many enzymes and is thus responsible for generating energy and healthy metabolism. It plays an important role in iron metabolism and is therefore necessary for blood formation.
Relatively high in other minerals
Relative to cabbage, chili leaves contain more manganese, copper, boron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium and phosphorus.
Relatively high in carotenoid antioxidants such as lutein, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene
Lutein is important for eye health while beta-carotene is necessary for vision, skin integrity, bone health and immunity.
Here are some recipes that can make use of chili leaves:
Have you eaten chili leaves before? What’s a local recipe in your part of the world which makes use of chili leaves?