This recipe allows you to ratchet up its heat quotient as you wish. A bit of harissa and there'll be a nice tingle. But you can add the pepper sauce till your palate cries uncle.
If wine is at the ready to douse flames, keep in mind that the hotter the dish, the less "hot" the wine should be. Alcohol is a solvent and will broadcast chili peppers' heat-carrying capsaicin oils. The more alcohol in a wine, the more intense the chili heat. Works that way for white and red. You choose the chili; you choose the booze.
Grilled chicken tacos with harissa mayo
Stir 1-2 teaspoons jarred harissa sauce into 1/2 cup mayonnaise. In a bowl, combine 1 small jicama, diced; 1 avocado, diced; and 1 small red onion, diced; stir in 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Season 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs with salt and pepper; grill, turning as needed, until done. Cut chicken into small dice, or shred. Divide chicken among 8 tortillas; top each with jicama mixture, harissa mayonnaise and chopped fresh cilantro. Makes: 4 servings
2010 Stony Hill Vineyard White Riesling, Napa Valley: This whisper-dry riesling at 12 percent alcohol is exactly like its German and Austrian forebears and just as friendly for food. $27
2009 Sattlerhof Cuvee "Vom Sand," Styria, Austria: If only all sauvignon blancs could be this zesty and fresh (even given some age!); juicy though dry, with scents of limeade and green apple; 11.5 percent alcohol. $14
2008 Cono Sur Syrah "20 Barrels," Limari, Chile: It wouldn't hurt to have a red for a spicy preparation, but most come high with alcohol; not this gem, a syrah from northern Chile, zesty and fresh, but huge in flavor and gentle extract (blueberry, black raspberry); just 13.5 percent alcohol. $25
— Bill St. John, Special to Tribune Newspapers