The poblano chile is a star in Mexican kitchens. It is used in a wide range of ways and in a wide range of dishes. Some well known examples are chiles en nogada, rajas, pickled, and stuffed with meat or cheese and bathed in a tomato sauce. But there are hundreds of other ways…
Aside from being absolutely gorgeous – chubby, curvy, large, sensuous and with a beautiful dark green color with a bit of a shine to it – it has a striking flavor that is rich, exuberant and fruity. It tends to be a bit capricious as well: it ranges from the very mild to the very hot. However, there are ways to tame its heat.
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Every year, just as summer peeks its warm face in Washington DC, I begin to crave fresh fruits and vegetables Mexican street cart style. One of the times when I have enjoyed it the most was last April. We were traveling through the Copper Canyon route, on a week long trip, from Chihuahua to Sinaloa. We had been waiting at the station in the town of Creel to catch the Chepe train to go to the next town.
As the station officer let out a scream that the train was approaching, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the fruit and vegetable cart. It was hot, we were tired and thirsty, and I saw Mr. Fruit Cart Man peeling some ripe and juicy mangoes. I grew weak in my knees.
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The chilacas, similar to the American Anaheim, are long, thin chiles, that sometimes twist and have a shinny light green color. Their heat goes from mild to mildly hot, but they are never very spicy.
Chilacas are very meaty and are used many times as a vegetable. Most times charred, peeled, and seeded, like the Poblanos, they are used for side dishes like rajas sauteed with onions and sometimes cream and cheese. I ate this version many times in the state of Chihuahua, in the North of Mexico. They are also used for eggs, sauces, soups, casseroles and fillings, amongst other things.
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The Mulato chile has similar looks to the Ancho chile but instead of a reddish black skin it has a dark black skin. You can tell the difference much better against the light! The Mulato chile also has a sweeter, fuller and more chocolaty flavor than the Ancho. No doubt they are different as they come from different chiles.
The Ancho chile comes from the dried regular Poblano chile. The Mulato chile comes from a variation of the Chile Poblano that has slightly different genes with a darker color and fuller flavor. It is hard to find the latter Poblano chile variation, as the growers prefer to dry them since they can sell them at a higher price at the markets.
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The Chipotle chile is the Jalapeño chile, that has been ripened, dried and smoked. Its name comes from the náhuatl Chilli or Chile, and Poctli or smoke.
The process of drying and smoking Jalapeños has existed for centuries, even before the Spaniards arrived. It was considered a way to preserve chiles for long periods of time and also bring out their interesting qualities.
There are different kinds of Chipotle chiles, all of which are spicy, smoky and rich.
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This salsa does hurt.
But just a little.
Yet it goes oh-so-well with the Pollo Pibil, which together with red pickled onions makes for a delicious Yucatecan meal. A bowl of this Habanero salsa is standard on just about every table in Yucatán. Around there, people drizzle some spoonfuls, or drops, on just about everything.
I recently found this salsa is heavenly combined with Louisiana style Bar-b-que and some baked beans (!). While it can make people very unhappy if not given a warning of how spicy it is, for the Yucatan class we had in December, the 20 batches made were gone before the middle of the meal. We did give our guests a warning… While my cooking team kept saying I was making too much, we made some bets, and much to my surprise, I won. I have learned now, that the American and international palate is much more open, than say a decade ago, for spicy foods.
Continue reading Do You Dare? Habanero Salsa!
Habanero chiles are one happy looking bunch. They have colorful colors that go from green to the yellow, and then orange to red as they mature. They are small, cute, shinny and have waxy skin. But as much as their looks are inviting, they are the spiciest chiles in Mexican cuisine. They are incredibly fierce. With a rating of 300,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville scale for measuring hotness of a chili pepper, you can get an idea of how hot they are: Jalapeños go around 10,000 to 15,000.
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Banana peppers are called chiles güeros in many regions of Mexico. Güero, translates to blond, name given because of their pale, yellowish color. There are different varieties or banana peppers, but they are pale and light in looks, have waxy skin, and a similar flavor to Jalapeños. Their heat level can range from mild to hot.
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Right off the bat, you must understand: I heart chorizo. Especially the kind I grew up eating in Mexico. It comes in deep-burnt-reddish links of fresh, moist, exotically seasoned ground meat that, once fried, becomes crisp and filling bites with bold flavors and a thousand uses. My oldest son’s quick choice for breakfast is chorizo fried until it browns and crisps, with a side of white toast. Add some lightly beaten eggs as the chorizo is starting to brown and some ripe and creamy avocado slices on the side, and that’s my kind of rich-tasting brunch dish. Of course chorizo is delicious in sandwiches, in tacos and quesadillas, on top of enchiladas, in mashed potatoes, as a topping for heartier salads, in some of the tastiest bean dishes I have tried, in pastas with a ton of personality and on pizzas with pickled jalapeño peppers on top.
I am really trying to stop myself here…
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Chile de árbol is a very spicy, yet incredibly flavorful dried chile. It is small, but elongated and thin. It has a deep and shinny orange-red color and it is used in many, many ways. It is often crushed for very spicy table salsas, though it is also used to add flavor and a bit of heat if not opened when cooking, amongst others.
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