Hot Today, Chile Tomorrow?

Hatch Chiles –  Get Them While You Can!!
By Nancy Eisman

I used to be a chile pepper chicken, meaning that I thought my delicate palate couldn’t handle the heat.  Now I know that chiles are a bit about their heat but a lot more about different nuances of flavor, and that each chile variety offers its own of both.  So rather then getting out of the kitchen I now keep my mind and mouth open to using chiles a lot more often.

Chile peppers are very important in the cuisines of countries like Mexico, Thailand, India, China, and South America, and feature prominently in our own popular Southwestern and Tex-Mex recipes.  There are at least 200 varieties of chiles grown, ranging in size from as small as ¼” to as long as a foot, and in colors from yellow to orange, to red, to bright green and dark green, almost black.  In addition to size and color, of course one of the most important characteristics is the amount of heat each chile has, from mild to scorching.  Capsaicin is the potent compound that gives each chile its heat, and chiles have been categorized by a measurement called Scoville units which indicates parts of capsaicin per million.  For example, a bell pepper has 0 units, while the habanero has 300,000!  Use gloves when handling chiles, do not touch your face (especially your eyes), and remove the veins and seeds to eliminate some of the heat.

When shopping select chiles that are firm, with glossy skin and no soft spots or blemishes.  Generally the smaller the chile is the hotter it is, which works in reverse for larger varieties.  Whichever chile you use, start with a small amount, then taste, and add more if you want a bit more heat.   Fresh chiles should be stored in the refrigerator, unwashed, wrapped in paper towels and placed in a plastic bag.   

Some of the most popular and commonly used chile varieties include Anaheim, Ancho, Cascabel, Fresno, Guajillo, Jalapeno, Habanero, Pasilla aka Poblano, and Serrano.  Hatch Chiles are a new variety that have taken the chile world by storm and now chile heads (people who really, really love chiles) are literally dancing in the streets.  Similar to the Anaheim, Hatch chiles have thicker flesh, four varying heat levels from mild to extra hot, and are only grown in Hatch, New Mexico, located just west of the Rio Grande River.  This small village of less than 2,000 swells to many thousands more for the Hatch Chile Festival held every Labor Day weekend.  Luckily we don’t have to travel all the way to Hatch to enjoy the 400 year old tradition of eating Hatch chiles.  For the 6 week or so season, there will be local roastings at supermarkets across the country – go to this link for the Hatch chile roasting schedule.

Yes chiles are low in calories and full of vitamins and potassium, but the reason to eat them is because of the vivid color and fantastic flavor they add to so many dishes.  Sauteed, fried, roasted, baked, or grilled, chiles are key to making your salsas, sauces, curries, marinades, omelets, casseroles, and quesadillas fragrant, fiery, and fabulous.

Hatch Chile and Nectarine Quesadillas
4 multi-grain flour  or whole wheat/corn tortillas (8”)
2 Hatch chiles, roasted*, cleaned, seeded and cut into strips
2 large nectarines or peaches, skin left on and sliced
3/4 cup queso casero or fresco, or mild feta cheese, crumbled
3/4 cup shredded cheddar, jack or any melting cheese you like
½ cup green onions, diced
4 teaspoons mango chutney or apricot preserves
cooking oil spray

*Chiles can be roasted on a grill, under a broiler, in a dry pan, or right on top of the gas burners on your stovetop which is my favorite and I think the easiest way.  Simply lay them on the burner, turn up the flame, let them cook on each side a few minutes until blackened, using tongs to rotate the chiles.  Then place the chiles in a plastic bag for about 20 minutes and the steam will make the blackened part of the skin rub off easily.  Don’t rinse under water because this removes a lot of flavor.

Place each of the 4 tortillas on your prep surface.  Spread a spoonful of chutney or preserves over the top.  On half of the tortilla sprinkle some of the crumbled cheese, then top with the sliced roasted chiles.  Place nectarine slices over the chiles, top with the other cheese and some diced green onion, then fold the unfilled side of the tortilla over the filled side. 

Spray a non-stick pan with cooking oil and turn the heat to medium-high.  One at a time, add each folded and filled tortilla to the pan and cook on the first side about 4 minutes or so then turn over onto the other side and cook another 3 minutes or so until the tortilla is nice and crisp and the cheese is melted.  Remove from the pan and try and restrain yourself for a couple of minutes before eating or the cheese could burn your mouth.  Cut into triangles and then let the Hatch chile festival begin!

(Also try this on your outdoor grill for even more deliciousness.)

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