It's an easy mistake to make: You've prepared a big pot of chili, and you're ready to sit back and let it reach that low-and-low perfection just simmering away on the stove. But then you have a taste and discover that it's shockingly spicy – way too spicy to serve to your unsuspecting family or friends. What should you do? Fortunately, there are several different ways to make chili less spicy while keeping it flavorful.
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How to Make Chili Less Spicy by Increasing Volume
The most effective way to make a dish less spicy without changing its flavor and texture is to increase the volume of the dish, adding more of every ingredient that isn't spicy in the same proportions of the original recipe. This method does take some additional time and effort and only works if you have more of every ingredient on hand. Choose an appropriate increase in volume according to how much you need to cut the spice level. For example, if you think you used about twice as much chile powder as the dish needed, you should aim to double the volume of chili. Return to your original recipe and add the same quantity again of every ingredient except the chile powder, chiles or other spicy ingredients.
A less-precise version of this method to make a dish less spicy is to increase the volume, thereby reducing the spice, by adding other nonspicy, neutral-flavored ingredients that will work with the dish. (Chili purists, look away!) This might be an additional can of tomatoes or beans, a decent quantity of diced mushrooms or zucchini, shredded cauliflower or lentils. The idea is to increase the volume of the chili with mild-tasting ingredients, thereby reducing the amount of spice in every mouthful. You might need to add a little more liquid to retain the right consistency when you make food less spicy in this way.
How to Make a Dish Less Spicy Using Small Adjustments
If your chili is only a little bit too spicy for your tastes, you can add one of several possible seasonings to help balance the spice enough to make it palatable. The idea with this approach to making food less spicy is to amp up the other flavor notes in the chili – sweetness, acidity or saltiness – just enough to make the heat a little less prominent. Start with just a pinch of salt; a dash of acid, such as citrus juice or vinegar; or a sweetener, such as honey, maple syrup, molasses or regular sugar. Stir it in thoroughly and taste it before adding any more. Some other ingredients that can help in the same way include tomato ketchup, which is both sweet and vinegary, and Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce, which are salty and umami-rich.
Turn It Into Creamy Chili
Adding creamy ingredients, such as sour cream, heavy cream, milk and nondairy milks, is a proven way to make food less spicy. Common advice is to drink a glass of milk to help with a painful burning sensation in the mouth; use the same principle to make chili less spicy and transform it into a creamy chili. It might not be the meal you had in mind, but a creamy chili can be delicious, and the addition of a glug of dairy or nondairy milk, cream or sour cream could save an otherwise unpalatable dish. Add your choice of creamy ingredient at the end of the cooking time and just allow it to heat through without boiling. Add a spoonful at a time, tasting until the spice is adequately tamed.
Sides and Toppings to Temper Spice
If it's too late to make your pot of chili less spicy, you can temper the heat of individual servings by choosing mild, creamy or starchy toppings or sides. As toppings, sour cream, plain yogurt, grated cheese and diced raw onion will all help balance the heat and make the food less spicy per mouthful. Try coleslaw for some crunch with the creaminess or a vinegar-dressed slaw for a similar effect. Plain, starchy sides in generous portions will balance the heat of a spicy chili. Consider rice, cornbread, garlic bread or French bread on the side or serve the chili over a big baked potato. If need be, offer everyone a glass of cold milk!