I love cayenne, don't get me wrong. It adds a fantastic heat to any dish from scrambled eggs to curry. It's just that sometimes I get a little bored of seeing "cayenne, optional" listed in recipes and need a reminder that there are other spices and seasonings out there that can give these dishes some serious kick.
I'll bet most of these seasonings are living in your fridge or cupboard right now, just waiting for to jump in and save the day. You might not think you can add Sriracha hot sauce to an Italian tomato sauce, but why not? It's just dinner! And by playing around with spices, you might discover a fantastic combination you never would have tried if you'd stuck to the recipe.
For adding heat to any dish, these are the spices and seasonings I turn to most often:
• Red Pepper Flakes - Good for more than just sprinkling on pizza, a pinch of these will infuse dishes with a sweet heat.
• Freshly-Cracked Black Pepper - Don't overlook pepper just because it's common; it's still good for a tingling back-of-the-throat spiciness.
• Hot Sauce - Tabasco, Sriracha, a bottle from the farmers market, I love them all. This is my favorite way of customizing my individual bowl if my dining companions want less (or more!) heat.
• Fresh Hot Peppers - These will be starting to come into season very soon. Look for regional and heirloom varieties.
• Dried Chile Peppers - Can't find 'em fresh? Try them dried!
• Chiles in Adobo - Mmm...smoky and spicy.
These are the biggies in my kitchen. What are your favorite ways to add spicy heat to a dish?
Related: Can't Take the Heat? How to Eat Spicy Foods