There was a great article by Marlena Spieler in the Dining In section of the New York Times a while back about one of my favorite foods, the chile pepper. The title “There’s More Than Heat to a Pepper’s Personality” hinted that it would clue us in on the taste nuances of different peppers. And it did.
Having spent many years traveling and living in New Mexico, where a variety of chile somehow finds its way onto the plate in everything from breakfast to dessert, Mike and I have eaten probably more than our fair share. We love the smoky flavor of dried Ancho or Chipolte peppers with meats, the bright, sharp tang of a fresh Serrano in guacamole, or the surprising clean nip on the tongue that cayenne brings to chocolate.
Ms. Spieler’s article is full of helpful tips, such as this:
One way to understand and appreciate those flavors is to taste some peppers…For fresh peppers, the place to start is with a tiny bite from the pointed end, because the stem end is hotter. You want to avoid the seeds and veins because they carry the most fire.
Okay, most of us know that one. But how about this?
Some flavors jump out, while others linger in the background. Scotch bonnet peppers, and habanero varieties like the Grenada, for instance, are known for their powerful heat. But they also have a fruity, minty flavor that is present in Jamaican jerk dishes.
Fruity and minty? Have you ever thought of chile peppers that way? Or this way?
Other fresh chilies have a whiff of banana or sweet red pepper, citrus, tomatoes or herbs. The spectrum of dried chilies, such as the ancho, mulato and guajillo, offer an even more complex range of flavors, as they dance from chocolaty, smoky, dusky, anise-y, and raisiny, to cinnamon-scented or even cherrylike.
Ms. Spieler’s piece goes on to pay homage to the various chilies in cuisines from south of the border to Southeast Asia and includes several wonderful recipes, one of which, the Turkey Kebabs with Urfa Pepper, combined ground turkey with chopped garlic, Urfa chile pepper flakes, sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, ground cumin, curry powder, olive oil, salt, and formed into small patties, designed to be fried in a little oil in a skillet, then wrapped in a large leaf of Romaine lettuce, garnished with a couple of fresh mint leaves, and eaten. Since they’re fried patties, I’m at a loss as to why they’re called Kebabs. Go figger.
Okay, it also involved piling on some couscous, but we in the low carb crowd would choose to leave that part out and it would be just as delicious, I’m sure. Not to mention a whole lot healthier.
Another recipe for Papas a la Huancaina (Peruvian Potato Salad) which Ms. Spieler credits as an adaptation from Dr. Noah Stroe, only requires substituting half a pound of cooked celery root (or possibly cauliflower) for boiled potatoes to make it low carb kosher. The yummy spicy chile cheese sauce would grace either one beautifully. It also wouldn’t be too bad on a grilled chicken breast or steak. Take a look at the ingredients:
6 aji amarillo chilies, stemmed, deveined, and chopped;
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped;
1 medium onion, chopped;
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil;
1/2 teaspoon turmeric;
12 ounces shredded white cheese (like Havarti or Monterey Jack);
1 cup sour cream;
3 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese;
2 limes or Key limes, quartered, to squeeze on at the end
Does that look tasty or what? Basically you saute these ingredients in the oil until soft, process them to a puree, thicken the puree to a paste over heat in the skillet, stir in the cheese, sour cream and let the cheese melt. Yum!
Then spoon this rich, spicy sauce over the cooked celery root or cauliflower, and squeeze on a little fresh lime. Double yum and thank you, Ms. Spieler and Dr. Stroe.
Makes my mouth water and makes me miss Santa Fe.
Tonight, I think I’ll whip up a batch of Celeriac a la Huancaina, roast a chicken, stir up a batch of low carb margaritas and think about soft winter New Mexican sunsets and the smell of roasted chiles and pinon smoke in the air.
PS: Sorry I’ve been slack on the bloggery; I’m under a looming deadline for a project that’s been taking up far too much of my time, but promises to be completed soon. I’ll endeavor to keep a bloggin’ despite it.