Mark Hix: Use it lightly – it doesn't have to blow your socks off

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The Independent Online

We chefs see these studies all the time about the supposed dangers or benefits of different ingredients. I don't think any of us pay too much attention to it. My rule is simple: everything in moderation, and that's definitely true with chilli, one of my favourite ingredients.

A lot of people are scared of it because of the heat, but used lightly chilli can work in the same way as any other seasoning – to add a bit of life to anything from curries to pastes and marinades. It doesn't have to blow your socks off. And if you're going heavy on it to be macho, you're not doing it for the flavours, which is just silly.

I first moved to London about 25 years ago now and discovered this very simple carrot and chilli recipe at a Chinese restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue. It was cheap, cheerful and delicious – and is one of my favourite spicy dishes. It can be adapted by adding finely chopped fresh ginger and sprigs of coriander.

If you're cooking with chilli, be careful what you touch afterwards. Washing your hands doesn't always get rid of it. Men should be especially careful to leave it a while before they go to the toilet.

Mark Hix's carrots with chilli

This is a great snack to serve before a dinner party, or as a starter. The carrots can be cut up into any shape, shredded, or cut into neat ribbons with the side of a cheese grater. An hour in the vinegar is enough, else they'll lose their crunch.

Serves 6-8

4 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into shapes as above

1 medium-sized red chilli, thinly sliced

Rice wine vinegar to cover (about 250-300ml)

1 tbsp caster sugar

Mix the sugar with the vinegar and chilli, pour over the carrots and mix well.