What marvelous little firecrackers chilies are — able to start a fire in your mouth faster than a Bic lighter.

Chilies add depth and flavor to bland dishes, and they add spice and ethnicity to otherwise banal food. Chilies are beloved by many different countries' cuisines: All manner of Hispanic, Asian and Indian cooking would be lost without a hefty dose of the ubiquitous chili.

Loving chilies and actually knowing chilies are two different things. There are a multitude of options, from blistering habanero chilies, the hottest thing going in the heat department, to lowly Ortega chilies — meek, mild mannered and all chopped up, sitting in a can and ready for action.

But how good for you are they? Chilies are major players in the vitamin C department. You can add more to the nutrition equation by making sure you choose red ones — now you've added in beta carotene. But the kicker in the pepper is the capsaicin. This is the stuff that gives chilies its eye watering appeal and makes you dive headfirst into a big glass of water. Capsaicin, it seems, can help lower cholesterol and work as an anticoagulant. Add to that the ability to fight inflammation, boost immunity, help your heart and even manage pain, and you have a wonder veggie, to be sure. Do remember that it's the capsaicin in the pepper responsible for all these wonderful side effects.

In honor of the ever lovin' chili, here's a great recipe to kick things off.

CORNY CHICKEN WITH HOT SALSA

2 1/2 pounds cut up chicken

2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

hot salsa (your favorite variety, with jalapenos)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a dinner plate, mix cornmeal, salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder and oregano. Coat the chicken with cornmeal mixture. Heat butter and oil in a 13-by-9-inch pan (in the oven) until butter is melted. Place chicken, skin side down, in the pan.

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Bake uncovered 30 minutes. Turn chicken; cook until brown and thickest pieces are done, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Warm the salsa and serve with chicken. Serves 6.

Per serving: 162 Calories; 10g Total Fat; (58% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; Trace Fiber; 39mg Cholesterol; 164mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates


Leanne Ely, a k a Dinner Diva, is the author of the best-selling "Saving Dinner" and "Saving Dinner the Low Carb Way" (Ballantine). What's for dinner? Go to www.savingdinner.com and find the solution.