More and more varieties of chili peppers are finding their way into our nation’s food markets, thanks to the delectable contribution that our growing Latin American population has brought to the table. Not afraid of flavor, these individuals have shown us how to stir the pot, infuse some chili charms and conjure a host of aromatic and savory dishes that heat our palates and warm the soul.
While chilies are not exclusive to Latin American and Mexican fare, as anyone from Thailand, China, India and Africa will tell you, of the more than 200 varieties of chilies found throughout the world, half of them hail from Mexico. The peppers span a wide range of colors, size and heat factor.
The most commonly found chili peppers within the United States supermarkets were jalepenos. These chilies are often sliced for embellishing soups or stews. They also make excellent vessels for stuffing with cheeses or spreads and serving as appetizers. The jalepeno popper is filled with cheddar and then dipped in batter and deep-fried. Anaheim chili peppers are also widely available, their mildly sweet and spicy flavor a choice selection for use in salsas.
Once a jalepeno is dried, it becomes today’s popular chipotle chili pepper, coveted for its ability to infuse a smoky chili flavor into everything including eggs, mashed potatoes, chili, dips, soups, barbecue sauces and stews.
Joining the chili pepper market scene are mild poblano chilies, which become ancho chilies when dried. Some very hot peppers to choose from include the serrano, the habanero, the Jamaican hot chili and the Scotch bonnet chili. These are among the hottest peppers in the world and are used extensively for firing up spice rubs and curries.
Chili peppers are available in fresh and dry variations. They are also used in the production of such seasoning products and condiments as chili pastes, chili powders, chili sauces and those dried red pepper flakes that you sprinkle on your pizza. When working with whole chilies, either wear gloves or be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling. If you fail to do so and then touch your eyes, you will surely receive a harsh reprimand for your noncompliance. Those inner ribs and seeds that you painstakingly removed contain the capsaicin that produces the intense, firey heat.
Cast a spell on daring diners at your next gathering with these tempting spiced up dishes.
1 16-ounce container sour cream
1 8-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
4 ounces shredded Monterey jack cheese
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon salt
2 canned chipotle chilies, coarsely chopped
Tortilla chips, strips of bell peppers, large grape tomatoes
Combine first 8 ingredients in a food processor until blended. Transfer to serving dish. Top with chopped chipotles. Arrange the tortilla chips, bell pepper strips and whole grape tomatoes around the dish for dipping and serve.
Serving suggestion: margaritas are a natural and festive sipping accompaniment for this southwestern nibble.
Raspberry Chipotle Duck Breasts
4 boneless duck breast halves with skin intact
10 ounces seedless raspberry jam
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped canned chipotle chilies in adobo
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon additional chopped canned chipotle chilies in adobo
1 6-ounce container fresh raspberries
Preheat oven to 500-degrees. Using a sharp knife, score the skin of each duck breast half in a criss-cross pattern, taking care not to cut through to the meat. Place the duck skin side up in a shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle the duck with salt and pepper and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the next four ingredients and stir until the jam has melted and all ingredients are mixed.
Brush the duck with a thin layer of the sauce (there should be plenty of sauce remaining for additional basting and final dressing). Place the duck into the oven and roast for 20 minutes, brushing with more sauce once halfway through cooking time. Before extracting the duck from the oven, stir the additional chipotles and the raspberries into the remaining sauce. Pour this mixture over each duck breast half before serving. Serves four.
Serving suggestion: accompany with saffron rice and serve with a red wine such as merlot or pinot noir.
Food for Thought
It’s time for all of you gardeners to get your herb plants into the ground. With the threat of frost behind us at last, even basil will appreciate the earth’s expanse to stretch its roots. No Italian cook should do without it, or without oregano, which, if planted last year, should be making its faithful comeback by now. Plant earthy and fragrant sage and rosemary for all of your fall dishes; chives, dill and mint will liven up summer fare. Thyme and parsley remain the most commonly harvested herb used in so many dishes. My fellow Long Islanders can usually reap the benefits of enjoying fresh herbs from your gardens right through the Thanksgiving dinner.
In addition to fresh spinach, asparagus, herbs and strawberries, your local farm stands are now displaying the first radishes, rhubarb and lettuces. Enjoy radishes as a simple part of an appetizer platter by dipping them into softened artisanal butter and sprinkling with sea salt crystals. Alternately, slice the radishes into a spinach salad.