Farmers' Markets

Farmers' Market Finds: Spice Things Up With Hella Herbivore's Chili Oils

Kris Carino started selling his small-batch Hella Herbivore chili condiments during the pandemic in 2020.
Kris Carino started selling his small-batch Hella Herbivore chili condiments during the pandemic in 2020. Hella Herbivore/Instagram
It's peak season for farmers’ markets. No matter your neighborhood, you can find local produce and handcrafted goodies near you. In Farmers' Market Finds, recipe developer and freelance writer Ashlee Redger highlights some standout local farmers' market vendors and dishes up a recipe using their goods.

Hella Herbivore

Where to find it: City Park Farmers Market on September 10, October 8 and October 22, and at Leevers Locavore, 2630 West 38th Avenue, and Börn's Colorado Honey shops in Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs.

For more info: Visit or follow @hella.herbivore on Instagram for market dates and recipes.

About the business: Kris Carino is busy. He's an ultrasound technician during the day and a brand-new parent at home. In the spare moments in between, he's also the chef and entrepreneur behind Hella Herbivore's Asian-inspired chili oil condiments, a brand he started in 2017 when he began sharing plant-based recipes and cooking videos on YouTube.

In 2018, he started popping up in Denver, serving Southeast Asian-inspired food like drunken noodles, banh mi and lumpia, a Filipino fried egg roll. "There wasn't a strong presence of Asian food, let alone Asian vegan food," he recalls.

He dished up plates at breweries, a CBD wellness shop and such vegan eateries as the Burrowing Owl in Colorado Springs, as well as from a food truck that he borrowed from an acquaintance about once a month. "We had lines that were probably like 45 minutes to an hour-long wait time just to order the food. We did really, really well," Carino recalls. "It showed that even though Denver didn't have availability when it came to Southeast Asian food, they were ready for it."

While Carino has been a continuous advocate for the vegan lifestyle (hence the brand name), his mission has never been to convert people based on his own values. "There are multiple reasons why I like to be vegan, anywhere from the health aspect to the environmental aspect to the ethical aspect," he explains. "But I don't think that the people who aren't vegan have to attach to those reasons to try my food. I focus more on what my food can bring in terms of flavor and diversity in your food, and from there, that might get people to be like, 'Oh, let me give this vegan thing a try.'"

Carino continued sharing his meals in person up until early 2020. In an all-too-familiar story, the pandemic put an abrupt halt to the pop-ups. While at home, he shared recipes online, and by May of that year, he began selling his chili oils to his family and friends via Instagram. After a nudge from the organizers of the City Park Farmers' Market, the condiment branch of Hella Herbivore was truly born.
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You can find Hella Herbivore Garlic Crisp, Chili Oil and Szechuan Oil at the City Park Farmers Market and Leevers Locavore.
Hella Herbivore/Instagram
More than two years later, with a full-time job and a new baby at home, Carino has put the pop-ups behind him (for now, anyway). With the limited time he does have, he's focusing on sharing his three varieties of Asian-inspired oils: Chili Oil, Szechuan Oil and Garlic Crisp. "If I'm just doing pop-ups and food trucks, it's just the people that come visit me. But with condiments, I can open up my audience and have [more people] try a taste of Southeast Asian food," he says.

The Chili Oil, filled with bits of red chili flakes and warming spices like cinnamon, coriander and anise, is Carino's favorite, and adds toasty heat and a crispy pepper flake texture to anything soupy or saucy (think ramen or Thai curry). The Szechuan Oil is made with numbing Szechuan peppercorns paired with garlic, scallions and ginger. For the uninitiated, Szechuan peppercorns create a pleasant tingly sensation in the mouth when eaten, and Carino suggests pairing this flavorful oil with steamed tofu or dumplings.

The best seller of the trio is the Garlic Crisp. "Everyone loves garlic," Carino jokes. It adds a more distinct crunch than the typical packaged fried garlic pieces, as well as a chili aroma. It's good on "anything savory and carby," says Carino, like pizza and creamy pastas. Each sauce has its own delicious nuances; ultimately, it's worth stocking up on all three, because you're going to want to add spoonfuls to everything.
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Carino creates Asian-inspired recipes for social media, like these Dan Dan Noodles using the Hella Herbivore Szechuan Oil.
Ashlee Redger
How to use it: These chili oils truly are great toppers for anything savory — and some sweet things (check out the bonus use below). Here are two suggestions to get you started:

Dan Dan Noodles (from Hella Herbivore's Instagram)
Combine two cloves finely chopped garlic, three tablespoons Szechuan Oil, two tablespoons tahini, two tablespoons of soy sauce, one teaspoon of dark soy sauce (if you have it) and one teaspoon granulated sugar in a large bowl. Stir in a dash of water, about two to hree tablespoons, just to loosen the sauce to a thick, coat-able consistency (use the noodle-cooking water here if you can). Add about eight ounces of medium-thick, Chinese-style wheat noodles that have been cooked according to package instructions and strained. Toss the noodles with the sauce to coat. Garnish with sliced scallions, cilantro and extra Szechuan oil as desired.

Fried Chili Egg
By using one of Carino's oils as your foundation for a fried egg, you infuse the whole thing with flavor. Add a spoonful of your choice of Chili Oil, Szechuan Oil or Garlic Crisp to a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, then try to get at least as much oil as crispy bits. Make sure to watch the heat; turn it down if needed so that the spices don't burn. Once the oil is hot, crack in one or two eggs and fry to your desired doneness (turn the heat down to medium/low and let cook slowly without flipping for a showstopping sunny). Serve the egg(s) on a piece of avocado or buttered toast, pouring any remaining chili oil from the pan over the top to get all the goodness. This method can also be used for scrambled eggs or your favorite plant-based egg alternative.
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Use your choice of chili condiments in a non-stick pan to get crispy, chili-laced edges on fried eggs.
Ashlee Redger

Bonus Use: Props go to a secret Ginger Pig menu item for this idea. For dessert, get some Chili or Szechuan oil and spoon it onto a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The combo creates fireworks of complementary flavors and textures: the savory, salty spice and crisp pepper flakes accent the creamy sweetness of the cold ice cream; add a dollop of peanut butter if you're into that. Don't knock it ’til you try it: This one's a true delight.

Bonus farmers' market finds: Autumn starts on September 22, which means it's almost the season for leaf peeping and turning on our ovens again. Here's what to add to your tote bags this weekend:
  • Fruit from the orchards (like our last Farmers' Market Find, Ela Family Farms) are at their peak. Get plenty of apples, pears and peaches for baking and snacking. Non-orchard fruits like melons and berries are nearing their final days of this growing season.
  • Squashes are hitting the scene. Roast ’em up during the weekend to have a go-to side for weeknight dinners. Each squash can be different to prepare, but most are excellent served with a pat of butter, salt, pepper and a drizzle of hot honey.
  • Late-season veggies like peppers, green chiles, cabbage, green beans and eggplant are here to comfort us as we start to see tomato season slow down.
  • Five Freedoms Dairy was founded by a veterinarian and offers ethical, humanely produced dairy. Stop by the booth and ask what the cows' names are before getting some milk to enjoy.
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Ashlee Redger is a recipe developer and food geek with strong Midwestern roots. When she’s not cooking & baking, you can find her obsessing about podcasts, acting busy in coffee shops and searching for fancy cocktails around town.
Contact: Ashlee Redger

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