Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hot Mama

I've long been fascinated with chile peppers. (They're beautiful, sassy, and full of nutrition, after all!) I grew up on Tex-Mex, so I've eaten many a chile pepper in my day. Yet I've always been too intimidated to cook with them much. And it's not as though I haven't thought about cooking with them - I have! More than once I've stared at them in the grocery store, wondering if I should make my salsa recipe with the usual jalapeno or be adventuresome and spice it up a bit. I mentally recite the golden rule of chile peppers, "The small ones are the hottest and the large ones are the mildest." But then the followup rule, "But not always!" sets in, I have second thoughts about whether I really know what I'm getting into, and I remove the habaneros from my basket and reach for a jalapeno instead.

This really is NOT an insurmountable problem. The grocery stores around here typically only carry about six types of peppers. (I thought that was a lot, then my sister told me that her grocery store in Texas usually carries 15-20, depending on the time of year!) So surely I can master the mere six or so peppers available in my store, right?

My plan is to use a few skeleton recipes to explore the chile kingdom. I was initially inspired to dive into this project when I saw this recipe for veggie tacos. I made my tacos with a poblano (aka, pasilla) pepper rather than the Anaheim/Hatch variety, but otherwise I followed the recipe exactly. It turned out great! And this recipe could easily be adapted to any chile pepper or any type of veggies.

So here's a little background on the poblano pepper. First of all, north of the border it's often labeled as a "pasilla" pepper when it is sold fresh, but once it's dried it is called an "ancho chile." The fresh poblano is similar size to a bell pepper, although it's narrower and has a darker green skin. (It's at the top and in the back in the picture above.) It's one of the milder peppers, with a heat index of 1,000 to 1,500 on the Scoville scale. And, most importantly, it's the pepper used in the traditional Mexican dish chile rellenos. In my tacos, the poblano had a very nice flavor with only a touch of heat. It was a nice balance because I was able to use a lot of it for a full chile flavor without being overwhelmed by the heat.

I'll report back as I explore other varieties, but in the meantime I'd love to hear if you have any chile pepper stories or recipes to share!

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