From Nora: My husband has a serious chile on his back. It's like one of those mythic, birth-of-a-comic-book-superhero stories. Years ago, in college, when we ordered Schezuan chicken, my roommate dared him to eat one of the hot peppers whole. In a burst of bravado he did it, biting down, chewing, and swallowing the entire thing.
It took a few hours for the pain, sweating, tears, blushing, coughing, etc. to subside. But, like the Incredible Hulk or Spiderman, ever since that first transformative radioactive exposure, he's never been the same. Now it's the hotter, the better. And although our fridge is stocked with an arsenal of sauces, the best stuff is homemade. This is a recipe we got from a waiter in Playa del Carmen, Mexico:
3 or 4 fresh or dried habanero peppers (for a milder sauce, use jalapeno, chipotle, or ancho, etc.) 1 lime, juiced 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped cumin (a pinch) salt (a pinch) fresh cilantro (optional)
Remove the stems and some seeds (depending on how hot you like it—the seeds and white membranes they're attached to are where the heat lives) of a few fresh or dried chiles. If using dried, first lightly toast them in a dry skillet to draw out the flavor, then soak them in hot water for about 15 min., until soft.
Add lime juice, garlic, salt, cumin, and cilantro. Pulverize in a blender or food processor. (An immersion or stick blender works well in a small container.)