Chiles Article -
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Heat You Can't Beat

If you're running out of ways to keep those light summer meals satisfying, turn to the chile pepper, whose heat, flavor and nutrients can't be beat. Originally cultivated in what is now known as Mexico, the chile pepper has become the most popular flavoring throughout the world. More than 100 varieties of chile are grown in Mexico alone, and several other varieties thrive in the American Southwest, Southeast Asia, China, India, North Africa, Spain and South America.

Finding Your Preferred Form

While the tongue-searing heat of chiles plays a starring role in Tex-Mex salads, Thai nam prik sauce, Szechuan dishes, Indian curries, Tunisian harissa, Spanish tapas and a variety of South American dishes, chiles also offer a rich store of nutrients that the rest of your body will thank you for: lots of vitamin C (more than bell peppers), vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin E and potassium. And some research suggests that eating hot foods such as chiles may even help to keep the good ol' metabolism healthfully high. In any case, chiles provide good nutrition as well as good flavor, so feel free to experiment with the varieties in your cooking and get ready to enjoy their heat.

If you're looking to spiff up a meal, a touch of chile can really brighten up a dish in a healthful, flavorful way. Here are some tips to help you select the form and variety of chile you want, and to brush up on how to handle chiles safely.

Fresh chiles: Fresh chiles can be found in the fresh produce area of a grocery store. When selecting fresh chiles, make sure they are firm, smooth and glossy with no signs of splitting. Refrigerate them in a plastic bag for up to three days. When handling fresh chiles, it is best to protect your hands with thin rubber gloves and avoid touching your face or eyes.

Dried chiles: Dried chiles are often located near the spices in ethnic and gourmet markets, but most other grocery stores will also carry them. Most dried chiles will keep indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place.

Canned chiles: Canned chiles can be found in your grocer's Mexican or ethnic foods section. After opening, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to five days.

    Variety Riot

    Chiles come in a variety of flavors, shapes and colors--and names. Although one name can refer to several different chiles and one chile may go by several different names, don't be discouraged. Feel free to ask your grocer about his or her chiles.

    • Anaheim: Also called California fresh chiles or long green chiles, these large chiles are pointed, 6 to 7 inches long, bright green and mild to medium-hot in flavor. They are available fresh, dried and canned.
    • Ancho: A dried form of the poblano chile, this is dark red to purple in color. It's also the sweetest of the dried chiles.
    • Cayenne: Bright red and fiery hot, this small thin chile is most commonly used in dried form in commercially ground powder, known as ground red pepper or cayenne pepper.
    • Chipotle: A dried, smoked form of the red jalapeño chile, these dried chiles are dark brown, and impart a smoky, chocolaty flavor to stews and sauces. They also come canned, usually in adobo sauce.
    • Habañero: Small and lantern-shaped, habañero chiles are the hottest-known chile and range in color from light green to bright orange. They are used sparingly, in both fresh and dried forms, most commonly in sauces.
    • Jalapeño: Small, dark green, medium-hot and juicy, jalapeños are available fresh, canned and dried (as chipotle chiles). These are easy to find and are one of the most popular chile varieties. They are used in a variety of sauces and are often stuffed.
    • Pasilla: In its fresh form, this chile is called chilaca. But this chile is most commonly dried. Medium-hot in flavor, pasillas are thin, 5 to 7 inches long and almost black. They are usually ground and used for sauces. These chiles are also known as chile negro.
    • Poblano: Often described as fruity and earthy, this dark green chile is mild to medium-hot in flavor. When fresh, its triangular shape is perfect for stuffing, as in chiles rellenos. It is often used in mole sauces. Dried poblanos are called ancho chiles.
    • Serrano: Fresh serranos are more slender and hotter than a jalapeño, but less juicy. They are often used interchangeably with jalapeños.

      Avoiding the "Scoville Scorch"

      As eager as you may be to get your chile fix, take some care when handling any hot pepper.

      • A chile's heat is rated in Scoville heat units, ranging from 1 to 300,000 (mild to extremely hot). The common jalapeño, which most people believe is very hot, rates only at 5000 units, whereas a habañero can get right up there at 300,000 units!
      • Although chile heat varies greatly, smaller varieties are generally hotter than larger ones. But heat levels may also differ within the same variety, depending on climate and soil conditions where the chiles were grown.
      • When you're ready to use any fresh chile, be careful and consider using thin rubber gloves. And, again, avoid touching your face or eyes.
      • By removing the seeds and the white spongy ribs that they're attached to, you can reduce the heat of the chile. This is because a chile's volatile oil, called capsaicin, is concentrated in the ribs.

      Aug. 3, 2009 6:53 am
      Please use the gloves,going to the rest room can be a very painful experience. Also take care touching your baby,the hot oil can transfer to her skin.
      Oct. 16, 2010 5:43 am
      Be VERY careful when drying chilis in the oven. LOW heat setting for a long time. Turning up the heat to speed it up can be very painful (dangerous if you have small ones or have asthma)... A friend attempted to dry his chilis faster, and wound up generating a cloud of tear gas that rendered their home uninhabitable for several hours. The cat was unfazed, but everyone else was in pain. :) Dry your chilis responsibly!
      Oct. 19, 2010 8:17 am
      Last weekend I bought my chiles to tide me over until next summer. I am very fortunate that I live in southern Colorado and fresh roasted Hatch chiles are sold around town. I was able to choose my peppers. This year I got Anaheims, half red (ripe)and half green. I brought them home, let them sweat in the plastic bag for a couple of hours and then bagged them for the freezer. Out of the bushel I got 5 large chiles per zipped sandwich bag for a total of 24 bags for a total of 120 chiles. Not bad for $18! When I wasn't able to find the roasted chiles, I bought raw ones and roasted them on my gas grill. If you ever get the opportunity to see them getting roasted, it's a sight you will never forget! HINT: I used tongs to bag my chiles and no irritated hands.
      Oct. 19, 2010 8:21 am
      Addendum to above: Every September, usually the third weekend of the month, there is a chile and frijoles festival in Pueblo, CO. You can buy fresh roasted chiles and freshly picked pinto beans. It's a fall festival and lots of fun.
      Jun. 15, 2011 5:55 pm
      It's not the sight of the chiles roasting so much as the smell of them roasting that says fall is just around the corner. Anaheims are only mildly hot. I've never found a need to use gloves to clean them. I fill the kitchen sink with water and peel off the blackened skin in the water. If I'm only peeling a pound or so I just do it under the running faucet. We can buy roasted Anaheims year round here in one of our local grocery stores in El Paso. Scrambled eggs with chopped roasted chiles and a handful of shredded cheese is a terrific way to start the day. Find a Chile Relleno recipe on here and make some. It's an incredible treat.
      Jun. 15, 2011 9:22 pm
      Wow..I must be super sensitive to all peppers that have any form of heat..I have to wear gloves when handling any of But it's worth it when considering the wonderful taste they provide for so many recipes. YUM! I can't wait for harvest time!
      Jun. 16, 2011 8:26 am
      Not only do we roast, peel and freeze 40 pounds of New Mexico's Big Jim chiles each September, but as our jalapeño and habanero plants are at their best, we mince them and pack each gently in an ice cube tray to freeze. Once frozen, we take them out and put them in plastic bags. The jalapeños we do with the seeds and veins, but we remove them from the habaneros.
      Jun. 17, 2011 8:59 am
      I had to call a Doctor's On Call hotline recently when chopping jalapenos. I'm not new to this and was being very careful but managed to get jalapeno oils on the skin below my nose. The pain was extreme. At any rate, aside from the previous efforts to rinse the skin, wash with soap and apply ice, the Doctor / Nurse On the Line advised using a compress with milk to neutralize the sting. This helped tremendously. I must be extremely sensitive because I can burn my lungs just cleaning or cooking Anaheims or Poblanos. Anyway, I hope someone else can benefit from the milk compress tip.
      Jun. 18, 2011 2:07 pm
      Thank You AR for chosing my chicken wings as one of the recipes in this article.
      Sep. 28, 2011 3:10 pm
      Please define a red chile pepper as called for in many recipes. I have several hot peppers in my garden....jalapeno, Hot Portugal, cayanne, etc. Is it any hot pepper? Does it have to be mature (red) or can it still be green?
      Apr. 14, 2012 7:01 pm
      For real heat try Chiltepins, also called "Bird Chillis". Great taste but the burn is extreme, but short duration.
      Sep. 9, 2014 9:18 pm
      I always let the peppers cool after grinding them up so you don't get fumes flowing off.
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