Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hot for Chile

by Ben Small

Ever been to Hatch, New Mexico?

I suspect you'll answer no. After all, how many people enjoy roaming around the New Mexico desert just a bit northwest of Las Cruces?

I'll respond, "Follow the fine chefs of the world September 4-5, for the annual Hatch Valley Chile Festival." They or their reps will all be there, scoping out the year's chile harvest. For Hatch, New Mexico is the chile capital of the world, has been for a very long time. Indeed, chiles have been a staple of the Americas' diet for over six thousand years.

Most folks associate chile peppers with heat, the kind that burns twice if you get my drift. But chiles don't have to burn their way through your digestive system. Remove the seeds and you'll find you're left with a glorious spice that's both healthy and tasty.

As many people know, legendary radio talk-show host Don Imus has prostrate cancer and has refused chemo or surgery. He's being treated holistically by his wife -- Deidre Imus founded a pediatric cancer institute -- and specialists from around the globe, and habanero peppers -- the hottest pepper by far -- are part of his daily regimen. Imus takes them in pill form, lest the steam pulsing into his microphone on a daily basis be blamed on organic heat.

There are 26 known species of chile pepper, five of which are domesticated.

Some facts you probably did not know about chiles:

  • One fresh medium-sized green chile pod has as much Vitamin C as six oranges.
  • One teaspoon of dried red chile powder has the daily requirements of Vitamin A.
  • Hot chile peppers burn calories by triggering a thermodynamic burn in the body, which speeds up the metabolism.
  • Teas & lozenges are made with chile peppers for the treatment of a sore throat.
  • Capsaicinoids, the chemical that make chile peppers hot, are used in muscle patches for sore and aching muscles.
  • Chile peppers are relatives of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, all belonging to the nightshade family.
  • The color extracted from very red chile pepper pods, oleoresin, is used in everything from lipstick to processed meats.

Famed Southwest chef Janos Wilder specializes in chile dishes. In addition to chiles stuffed with everything imaginable, Janos' chocolate jalapeño ice cream is to die for. The pleasant after-taste lingers for hours, and no cold wash cloths need be applied to the forehead. I've been to Janos' restaurants with friends who don't like spicy food, and none of them have rejected this desert after they've tasted it. Usually, they argue about who gets the last spoonful.

Most of us have had nachos somewhere. Just about every Mexican restaurant offers them as an appetizer or entrée selection. And usually, they're a bit boring. Not at one of Janos' restaurants. My wife won't eat nachos anywhere else. She orders Janos' version for her entrée, as do some of my friends. Me? While I love Janos' nachos and eat some of hers, I have yet to get past Janos' jerked pork entrée. Here's his menu description of it. Note the chile used.



Anonymous said...

Fantastic article about chile peppers, something I know almost nothing about. As someone who likes to cook, I appreciate the helpful information. The photos are gorgeous, too!
Pat Browning

Anonymous said...

Ben,I just read at that stores are stocking chiles in Sept. as some kind of special deal. I have a question for you. The article recommends canned or frozen chiles if you can't get fresh ones.
Q: Can you eat the canned/frozen ones as is, or do you have to skin and seed them?
I'd really like to try some for all that nutritional benefit, not to mention the taste.

Pat Browning

Unknown said...

Pat, I saw this message on my phone and assumed it was an email. I responded, but see that you didn't get it. Sorry.

To answer your question, it depends on your tastes. The skin of these peppers is edible, but waxxy, so some people, often chefs, burn the outer layer off. The seeds are what's hot, except on habanero peppers, where both the skin and seeds are very hot. Don't play with habanero peppers without washing your hands before you go to the bathroom or touch an eye, or you may get a very warm surprise. Habanero peppers are the hottest on earth, at least as far as I'm aware, so if you use them, go easy on them with your recipe. Not all peppers are hot, however. The green ones are quite nice -- seeds removed. I eat banana peppers, also known as pepperocini, right out of the jar, but then my father taught me to like hot food, and I love banana peppers. When my wife uses them for cooking, she removes the seeds. They're still spicy, but won't burn your mouth out.

The recipe my wife made was simply outstanding. We're putting that on the top of our list of favorite dishes.

Unknown said...

Pat, glad to help. Yes, they will have them at Wal-Mart. The long green ones are probably the ones you want. Can't believe you spent so many years in California and didn't get hooked on Mexican food. Good thing they have such good examples of it in OK. You're right; Okies know good Mexican food. :)