I always say that in my kitchen, “Happy Chefs=Happy food” and it’s very true. I genuinely believe that we all cook our best food when everything is right with the world and we are in a happy place. But in these challenging times with a worldwide pandemic and so much uncertainty all around us, is there anything we can eat to cheer us up and improve our mood?
I mean everybody really knows that by eating the right foods we generally feel better and our energy levels soar again. But scientists have revealed the simple truth that when you eat foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, they are not only super healthy, they can also increase happiness, lessen symptoms of depression, and quell anxiety. Happy food it would seem really does exist!
“Our mood is much more influenced by the intestine than we previously thought“, says Prof. Dr. Peter Holzer, neurogastroenterologist at the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology at the Medical University of Graz. The intestine sends emotional signals to the areas of the brain that control our moods and feelings. Spicy foods such as chilli contain a substance called capsaicin, which leaves a spicy, “burning“ taste on your palate. The result is a slight pain. Reason enough for the brain to take action and intervene with its own methods. As a small consolation it releases the happiness hormone endorphin. So apparently, eating spicy food will improve your mood.
Incredibly, a guy called Wilbur Scoville developed a method for measuring the strength of capsicum in a given pepper as far back as 1912 and that meant tasting a diluted version of a pepper and giving it a value. Now every year the race is on to produce the world’s hottest pepper on the Scoville scale and according to the Guinness Book of Records, the hottest chilli is the ‘Carolina Reaper’, first grown in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Apparently it rates at an average of 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units and it actually put a man in hospital recently after a chilli tasting competition in New York. The Carolina reaper is red but normally green ones are marginally hotter than red ones and as a general rule, the smaller the chilli, the hotter the taste.
Cooking chillies does not actually reduce the intensity of capsaicin but you can achieve this by removing the seeds and the white membranes before cooking. To prepare fresh chillies, slit them lengthwise, remove the seeds and membranes with the tip of the knife and cut off the stem. It’s very important to avoid contact with the eyes or any sensitive skin during or after preparing chillies - even washing your hands afterwards may not be enough to remove all the capsaicin. Should you find yourself with a particularly fiery mouthful of chilli, the most effective antidotes are dairy products such as milk or yoghurt (particularly when combined with cooling cucumber, as in the Indian raita), because capsaicin is fat-soluble. Eating starchy foods such as bread or rice can also help. A drink of cold water won’t help - it will actually seem to increase the heat. Fresh chillies combine perfectly with ginger, lime and coconut in this delicious spicy soup with chicken dumplings.
Yellow Thai curry with chicken
Cooking time: 30 mins
Prep time: 25 mins
· 4 chicken breasts, skinned & diced
· 1 tin of coconut milk
· 2 sweet potatoes, peeled & diced
· 1 medium onion, finely chopped
· 1 small bunch of coriander
Yellow curry paste
· 3tbsp chopped lemongrass
· 4 small red chillies, deseeded
· 5g fresh ginger
· 2 garlic cloves, peeled
· 3 tsp ground turmeric
· 2 tsp fish sauce
· ½ tsp coriander seeds
· 1 tsp cumin seeds
· ½ tsp salt
· Juice of 1 lime
Place all the ingredients in a food processer and blend to a thick paste.
Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and sweat the onion and diced sweet potatoes until they start to soften. Add the chicken breast and 2 tablespoons of yellow curry paste. Pour over the coconut milk and simmer for 10 minutes until the chicken and potatoes are cooked through. Season to taste, sprinkle with torn coriander leaves and serve with boiled jasmine rice.