Heat Up Your Garden With Chili Plants!

Fresh chili peppers add personality to virtually any culinary creation. From a tangle of spaghetti to a chocolate cake, a little chili brings an intriguing heat. Going to the grocery stores for peppers can feel frustrating though, especially when you're looking for unusual varieties. Chili peppers aren't all made alike-each type has a distinctive flavor all its own. Luckily, chilies are easy to grow at home. Try cultivating these three.

1. Banana Peppers: Long, flattened, and yellow, this chili is milder than most with a sweet, fruity flavor. Commonly found on sandwiches, the banana pepper pickles particularly well. Submerged in vinegary brine, this pepper develops a stinging bite. Since it's larger than most chilies, try dicing it and adding to hearty stews for texture. Although banana peppers need direct sunlight, they're otherwise easy to grow. Look for plants at a farmer's market or gardening store.

2. Serrano Peppers: Much hotter than banana peppers, serrano peppers are smaller and more violently red. Native to mountainous regions of Mexico, serrano peppers need only a little water to thrive. This chili works well in salsas, where its grassy heat really pops against a tomato background.

3. Habanero: If you need intense spice on hand at every moment, grow habaneros in your backyard. Like the serrano and banana peppers, habaneros need lots of sun but only a little water. Be careful when handling these chilies-they're so hot, they can irritate the skin and inflame the eyes. With a beautiful citrusy kick and unadulterated heat, homegrown habaneros make Mexican meals all the more special.

Besides the simple joy of working in your own garden, planting chili peppers can help your other plants, too. Peppers work as a natural insecticide, warding off garden pests that might savage nearby crops. Try using your own produce in this Texas chili recipe with Mexican chocolate.

Photo: p22earl on flickr

Southern Basketball Food

At high school basketball games in the South, concessions are king. Spectating is hard work; it requires specially crafted food to sustain energy levels. Although every town has its own idiosyncratic foods, two unusual items seem prevalent throughout the South's basketball belt: pickles and Frito pie. Sour and super-salty, dill pickles are a popular choice among southern basketball spectators. Served alongside a hot dog or nachos with deliciously artificial cheese product, dill pickles bring a cold crunch to any fan's dinner. Sometimes, fans will request glasses of pickle juice to accompany their meals. More familiar to most as a shooter served with whiskey or bourbon, pickle juice is actually refreshing on its own. In fact, a Texas company has started producing an energy drink from pickle juice designed to minimize cramping during exercise!

Frito pie is another concession stand favorite. Oftentimes, the cook just pours chili into a bag of Fritos and tops it all with cheese, onions, and jalapea±os. The spicy, salty mixture tastes like processed food heaven: everything fans could want while cheering their team to victory. Concession stands usually stock huge vats of chili, enough to make dozens of pies and have leftovers for chilidogs. Supremely messy, the chilidog is less contained than the Frito pie, necessitating dexterous coordination of clapping and eating.

If you find yourself at a basketball game in the South, look out for dill pickles and Frito pies. When watching basketball at home, try this recipe for Swedish hot dogs with shrimp salad and pickled cucumbers-a more upscale version of American comfort foods.