Monday, February 27, 2012

On Recreational Peppers

Several years ago I decided to keep green and red bell peppers on hand in my fridge. They are useful in so many things - Greek SaladSunday Breakfast Scrambles and Cauliflower Curry, just to name a few. Weekly dinners improved immensely with peppers in the fridge. Plus, you don't need to use them right away, unlike other quick-spoiling veg.

It came to be that the bulbous bell wasn't quite the kick that was needed. So I started stocking jalapenos. Jalapeno heat is sort of overrated; once seeded, they really aren't all that hot. Finely chopped jalapenos go into my Guacamole and Breakfast Potatoes. Cut into long, thin strips they take Fajitas to new heights. In marinades for chicken they transform bland bird into succulent, spicy Tandoori. Thin rounds of jalapeno make Ginger-Jalapeno Rice Appetizers more spectacular. And I could scarcely produce a homemade salsa (Pico de Gallo, Mango or Salsa Verde) without the trusty Jalopy.

I'm beginning to think the jalapeno is a gateway pepper.

I frequent the Whole Foods pepper bar with increasing regularity, stashing Bird's Eye chilis for Thai Green Curry; Poblanos for Braised Pork Tenderloin, Poblano Beef, and Mexican Pork Stew; and Scotch Bonnets for Jerk Sauce. No chance I'm going to get off these peppers. Last week we had Poblano Beef. I had forgotten how good that stuff is! The only thing wrong with it seems to be that it's impossible to make enough.

A great bit of fun is roasting a pepper over a flame on the stove. If I need to roast lots of peppers I'll throw them under the broiler. But when one or two are all that's needed, I just balance them right on the burner and use my tongs to rotate them. I only do this with the bigger peppers, like poblanos and red bells. Jalapenos go under the broiler or in a  cast iron pan for browning.

There is some care to take when working with hot peppers. Poblano fumes sneak into my lungs when I'm rinsing off the blackened skin. Jalapenos are surprisingly juicy - I often think it'd be a good idea to wear my glasses when cutting them. And don't forget to wash cutting boards and knives. Just don't let these warnings dissuade you! Food smells fear, I'm sure of it. But your cooking will be much improved if you identify some ways to incorporate hot peppers into your menus.

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