My first encounter with a truly hot chile was in Nogales, Ariz., not long after we moved there in the early 1960s. On warm summer nights, friends and I would run around the neighborhood, looking for entertainment. Which is how we found ourselves in one friend’s house one night, where I was challenged to chew on a few dried chile pequins, that held their place on the table right between the salt and the pepper.
“Bet you can’t eat these,” said one. I said I could. Within moments of tossing a few in my mouth I was lying on his mom’s bed, he and the rest of the kids were wringing their hands, fanning me and bringing cold water. The lesson: If you don’t know the heat level of the chile, approach with caution!
I love all chiles now, from the fiery habanero to the red chile de arbol, with its singular, enigmatic flavor. My heat tolerance isn’t as amazing as some of my friends’, but moderation is the key to the really hot chiles. Most of the following suggestions are for Hatch or Anaheim green chiles. The first one, however, is for the long, thin red chiles we usually see called Jap chiles. Seed them if you don’t like a lot of heat.
1. Oven-roasted Salmon Fillet With Hot Chiles, Ginger and Lime
This dish is definitely Asian in flavor, and very easy to put together. (Recipe is below.) You make a marinade of ginger, garlic, freshly ground coriander, lime juice, olive oil, and some red pepper flakes, to taste. Reserve some of the marinade for a dressing, pour the rest on the fish. While the salmon is roasting in the oven, wash and crisp the kind of boxed field greens that have herbs mixed in (or add some stems of cilantro and dill to a regular mix). Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the reserved marinade, whisk it, and put a couple of teaspoonfuls into the greens and toss. Serve the greens on top of each salmon fillet, along with slices of fresh cucumber.
2. Hatch Guacamole
In San Antonio, the mashed avocado that most restaurants serve and call guacamole is notoriously bland. Give it some zing with minced serrano or jalapeño. With Hatch chiles just in, dice up a whole roasted one and add to your guacamole. Be sure to not over-roast it. You want it to have a little crispness left. Just take off those roasted bits of black char and the seeds and stringy veins inside. Add a little minced garlic, lemon juice and salt along with the chopped chile.
3. Chiles Rellenos, Tempura Style
Chef Janos Wilder suggests a lighter, crunchier, tempura-like batter for a chile relleno. The filling doesn’t matter; use what you like. But the outside is something a little different. For 4 Anaheim peppers, use 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 3/4 cup flour, 1 egg yolk, 2 cups ice water (or more, if needed) and salt and pepper, to taste. Mix the ingredients in a bowl, season it. To make the rellenos, dredge them in flour, shaking off excess. Dip the chile into the batter and fry, as usual. (From “The Great Chiles Rellenos Book,” Ten Speed Press, $16.95.)
4. Breakfast Rellenos
Roast and peel as many large Anaheims or poblanos as you have people for breakfast. Fry, drain and crumble bacon, dice one or two ripe tomatoes, shred yellow cheese. If you have a tomato sauce or salsa handy, warm it up, as you would with huevos rancheros. Make soft-scrambled eggs, add the bacon, tomato and cheese and stir until it is all just warmed, the cheese melted. Cut a slit down each chile and clean out the veins and seeds. While they are still warm, spoon in the scrambled eggs. Serve with more salsa and tortillas.
5. Green Chile Enchilada Casserole
Don’t fret over whether to have lasagna or enchiladas, have both— and feed this to a crowd. Oil the bottom and sides of a baking pan, such as a 9-by-13-inch pan. Soften 2 dozen corn tortillas, either by warming in the oven or microwave. Heat up four cans of green chile enchilada sauce, and have a good-sized pile of roasted, peeled green chiles on hand, as well as shredded cheese and sour cream for topping. Put one layer of tortillas down in the bottom of the pan, pour over green enchilada sauce, sprinkle on cheese (you could always add shredded cooked chicken or seasoned ground beef, too.) Add single layer of green chiles. Repeat the process until the pan is full. Sprinkle cheese on top and bake at 350 until it is bubbly. Spoon on sour cream the last few minutes of baking. Cut into squares, like a lasagna.
6. Green Chile Salsa
This is more common in New Mexico and Arizona than in Texas, but it’s wonderful with anything from quesadillas or eggs to char-broiled steak. Peel 4-5 fresh tomatoes, dice them and put them in a pot with a little fresh garlic and salt. Bring to a simmer and let them cook a minute or so. Take off heat, add as many strips of green chile as you wish. Let cool. Check the seasoning. Serve.
7. Barbacoa, Carnitas or Shredded Beef (Machaca)-stuffed Chiles
Again, this calls for Hatch (Anaheim) chiles or poblanos, roasted, peeled and seeds removed. Spoon in any of the meat filling above, top with queso fresco, some sliced green onion. Put them on a sheet pan in the oven to warm up, serve with salsa. (Chef Wilder suggests Lamb Barbacoa for this dish.)
8. Shrimp or Chicken Salad with Diced, Fresh-roasted Hatch Chiles
Make shrimp of chicken salad the way you usually do (I like to make it with minced celery, a little onion, a drop of Tabasco sauce and mayonnaise. Nothing fancy.) Two ways to go here: Open a roasted, peeled and trimmed chile and serve the salad inside the pepper. Garnish with green onions, radishes and sliced avocado. Or, chop up the green chile and mix it in the salad. Either way, yum.
9. Chiles Rellenos Sonoran Style
This is the first way my mom learned to make chiles rellenos. Roast and clean Anaheim (Hatch) green chiles, then skin them, cut a slit down the middle and stuff with white or yellow cheese. (She actually used Ortega whole canned chiles, which tasted just fine, as I recall.) Try to stuff just enough cheese to be generous, but not so much that you can’t close the chile. Dredge them in flour, then dip in egg, then in a salt-seasoned fine cracker meal. Fry them in a large skillet, over medium-high heat, until they are crisp and brown. Serve with a good tomato salsa. And steak. Also, these are good cold. I’d often find my mother, long after the company had gone or the dishes had been done, leaning into the refrigerator to get just one more stuffed chile.
10. Add those gorgeous chiles to just about anything
Use your creativity: Make a green chile cheeseburger; put green chiles strips in your tortilla soup; make green chile omelettes; make green chile stew or green chile fideo. Put strips of green chile in a salad of greens with seared chicken breast or shrimp. Add green chiles to things you usually put green bell peppers in.
Oven-roasted Salmon Fillet With Hot Chiles, Ginger and Lime
1 pound fillet salmon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1-2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
1 tablespoon hot red chile flakes (such as Jap chiles), or to taste
Juice of 2 limes
2 teaspoons coriandor, freshly ground, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt, to taste
1/2 box field green mix with herbs
Several sprigs cilantro
1/2 long English cucumber, sliced into rounds
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 375. On a cookie sheet, put down foil and lightly oil it or spray with oil. Put salmon fillet on the foil. In a food processor (large or small) put the garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, juice of two limes, 1 teaspoon of the coriander and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add a few pinches salt. Process until there is a smooth blend. Then, put the marinade through a fine sieve. Set aside the pulp that is left. Pour all but about 2-3 tablespoons of the marinade over the fish. Let it sit about another 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, if needed, and then dot the fish with some of the pulp left in the sieve. Put fish in oven to bake until it is sizzling and firm to the touch. About 15-20 minutes.
In the meantime, pour the leftover marinade into a bowl and add the remaining two tablespoons of marinade you reserved. Whisk in the remaining olive oil to make a salad dressing. Rinse the greens in a strainer, drain well and put back in the fridge in a bowl, covered with a damp paper towel. When the fish is done, take it out of the oven and dot it with small pieces of butter. Put the cilantro and the cucumber in the salad, or leave the cucumber on the side, if you wish. Toss the greens with a small amount (to taste) of the dressing. Sprinkle on some of the remaining coriander. Cut the fillet of salmon in half and put a piece on each plate. Pile the dressed greens around and over the fish.
Makes 2-3 servings.
From Bonnie Walker