Roasting, but chili

Hot peppers give everyday food a spicy kick.

chili pepper 88 (photo credit: )
chili pepper 88
(photo credit: )
While traveling in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border, my husband and I were impressed by the centrality of the region's flavorful medium-hot peppers to the local cuisine. Slim, roasted semi-hot green peppers embellished kebabs, and bright red Maras pepper flakes and red-black roasted Urfa pepper flakes seasoned many dishes. Hot peppers may be even more important to the cuisine of New Mexico, where they are known as chilies. The largest producer of chilies in the United States, New Mexico, was part of the chili-lovers' paradise of Mexico until 1850. At this time of year, a visitor to New Mexico, especially around the village of Hatch, could easily imagine he was in the Middle East. It's the height of the pepper harvest season. Brilliant red, dried hot pepper wreaths known as ristras lend a festive look to the marketplaces, and the scent of roasted peppers is in the air. Chefs prize this region's green chilies for their unique flavor, which is due to the area's special growing conditions. "Their flavor is unique... sweet and earthy, with a clarity that seems to reflect the skies and landscapes of New Mexico," wrote Mark Miller, a chef in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and author of The Great Chile Book. Like wine grapes, hot peppers are affected by the terrain and the climate in which they grow. The area's chili peppers are meaty and tend to be medium-hot. Since the season for these special peppers is short, many cooks in the southwestern parts of the United States buy them in quantity. They then have them roasted by the local chili roaster or roast them at home. Recently, I attended such a chili roast at Bristol Farms, a gourmet supermarket near Beverly Hills, California. There, Robert Schueller of Melissa's Worldwide Produce showed me how the chili roaster works. The chilies gave off a wonderful aroma as they roasted in a rotating drum-shaped basket, in which a large amount of chilies can be evenly roasted at one time. Schueller recommends freezing roasted chilies in a single layer in a bag so they are easy to remove. They contribute a lively flavor to a great variety of dishes, from scrambled eggs to sandwiches to just about any dish containing cheese. We sampled a delicious cream cheese spread that was beautifully enhanced by chopped, roasted green chilies. Potato salad also gained great flavor from the slight heat and smokiness of these roasted hot peppers. The popular New Mexican green chili stew recalls flavors of the Mideast - the browned meat is simmered in water with sauteed onions and garlic, then potatoes, roasted green chilies, salt and cumin are added. Roasted peppers from mild to hot add zest to avocado dip, spaghetti and pizza toppings. Different kinds of chilies and peppers are very interchangeable, and you can easily adapt recipes to the peppers you find. Every pepper-growing region of the world has its own valued varieties. I have enjoyed wonderful long semi-hot as well as small fiery chilies in Los Angeles as well as in Istanbul and in Jerusalem. I buy mine a few at a time at the supermarket, unlike my father-in-law, who always bought big bags of hot peppers at the shuk so that my mother-in-law could make the Yemenite pepper relish, s'hug, by combining them with garlic. ROASTING CHILIES (hot peppers) Use this broiler method for roasting long, slim semi-hot peppers or very small fiery ones. You can also roast them over an open flame, using tongs to hold them, until they are charred. Prepare sweet peppers the same way; they take longer to char and it's best to roast them a little further from the heat source. Fresh hot or semi-hot peppers Wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers if you are sensitive, or if you've never used them before. If not wearing gloves, wash your hands thoroughly after handling them. Wash the board and knife well after cutting peppers. Put peppers on broiler rack or on grill about 5 cm. from heat. Roast peppers, turning them often, until skin blisters and chars on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes. Do not let them burn. Transfer to a bowl and cover tightly, or put in a bag and close bag. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel using paring knife. Discard cap, seeds and ribs. Be careful; there may be hot liquid inside. Drain well and pat dry. You can refrigerate them for 2 or 3 days, or freeze them. GREEN CHILI SHAKSHUKA Gordon Heiss and John Harrisson, authors of La Casa Sena: The Cuisine of Santa Fe, serve green chili sauce over an omelet flavored with grated cheddar cheese. I prefer to prepare eggs with chilies using a simpler technique - the shakshuka method for vegetable scrambled eggs that I learned from my mother-in-law. If you don't have chilies, you can use roasted sweet peppers from a jar. Makes 3 or 4 servings 4 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil 4 1 medium onion, chopped 4 2 or 3 medium tomatoes, diced small 4 2 medium-hot or 1 hot roasted chili (hot pepper) or sweet peppers, cut in strips 4 Salt to taste 4 1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste 4 1 tsp. ground cumin (optional) 4 6 eggs, beaten Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes or until golden brown. Add tomatoes, pepper strips, salt, pepper and cumin and mix well. Cook for 1 minute. Add beaten eggs and scramble over low heat until set. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately. POTATO SALAD WITH ROASTED HOT AND SWEET PEPPERS Roasted peppers add a savory flavor to old-fashioned potato salad. For a lighter option, substitute vinaigrette dressing for the mayonnaise; see Note below. Garnish the salad with olives. Makes 4 servings 4 900 gr. boiling potatoes of uniform size, scrubbed but not peeled 4 Salt and freshly ground pepper 4 2 medium-hot or 1 hot roasted chili (hot pepper), chopped fine, or 1 roasted sweet green pepper, cut in strips 4 2 roasted sweet red or yellow peppers, or 1 of each, cut in strips 4 1⁄2 cup diced cooked carrots 4 1⁄2 cup cooked peas 4 1⁄4 cup chopped onion 4 1 dill pickle, diced small 4 3 Tbsp. chopped parsley 4 3⁄4 to 11⁄4 cups mayonnaise Put potatoes in large saucepan, cover with water by about 1 cm. and add salt. Bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until tender enough so that knife pierces center of largest potato easily and potato falls from knife when lifted, about 25 minutes. Do not overcook, or potatoes will fall apart when cut. Drain potatoes in colander. Peel them and cut in dice. Put potatoes in large bowl. Add roasted chili, sweet peppers, carrots, peas, onion, pickle and parsley. Add mayonnaise and fold it in gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Note: Vinaigrette dressing to substitute for mayonnaise: Whisk 6 to 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil with 2 to 3 tablespoons wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Add the dressing gradually, adding just enough to coat the ingredients. n Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.