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The Hot and Flavorful World of Chiles


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Another example of a versatile chile is the poblano, or pasilla (as it is called in some areas, such as California). In its fresh state it is often used in making chiles rellenos; when dried, the same chile is called ancho and has an earthy, raisin-like flavor that complements many meat and poultry dishes. One of the more well-known sauces using the ancho is the mole poblano from the Puebla region of Mexico. Mole poblano not only frequently incorporates the ancho chile, but others as well, including pasilla and mulato chiles. These chiles collectively add earthiness, smokiness and fruitiness to the sauce, creating a very complex, yet well balanced, chile flavor profile.

In Asia, fresh chiles are used in making curries. In Thailand, they use bird’s eye chiles for many curries, and in India, they use jwala chiles. Mixed with other spices, the chile peppers provide heat and complement the other ingredients to round out the flavors.

Chiles can also be roasted, toasted and fried to extract many flavors that give authenticity to a sauce. Hatch chiles (green Anaheim) are typically roasted on an open flame from fresh and used in green sauces in the Southwest. Chile de arbol, a dried chile, can be toasted on top of a comal, or flat-top grill, to give a nutty flavor to a tomatillo de arbol salsa.

Discriminating palates want Asian masalas, curries and sambals that remain true to their native flavors. South Asian masalas (aka, “spice mixtures”) often include ground, dried red chiles with spices like coriander, cardamom, cumin and cinnamon. Curries—either wet or dry—can incorporate fresh or dried chiles, often Thai (or “bird”) chiles. Spicy sambals, used as dipping sauces or condiments, often feature a variety of fresh chiles, including habanero, naga jolokia and cayenne.

Jamaican jerk—often applied as a rub to meats before grilling—is another popular ethnic option. The rubs feature fresh Scotch bonnet peppers, along with spices and herbs like allspice, cloves, cinnamon, garlic and thyme.

As the trade routes meandered through Europe, the chile found its way to various places. Hungarian goulash comes to mind when speaking of how chiles found use in Europe. This soup or stew uses paprika, a dried spice often made from various bell peppers and chiles to create versions that range from mild to spicy. In Eastern Europe, paprika is also the name for the fresh bell peppers that go into the dried spice. Spain follows suit, calling fresh bell peppers pimientos (or pimentos), and drying various varieties, often using oak, to create a smoky spice.

In Africa, the peri-peri (African bird’s eye) chile forms the basis of the famous peri-peri hot sauce. Although it’s probably of Portuguese origin, it has become a staple condiment in East African cuisine. Doro wat, an Ethiopian chicken dish, gets its flavor from berebere paste, which has a spicy red chile component.

New chile directions

Chefs are creating dishes that truly represent the flavors of the world, and then taking them into new directions by using chiles in them. Cuisines from Latin American and Asian countries are fusing together using common ingredients. As an example, we have a sauce called a “Thai-rribean” that features Thai, habanero and cayenne chiles and incorporates tie-in flavors of coconut, ginger, lime and garlic.

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