Raw Or Roasted, Dried Or Deadly
My foodie brother used to live in Texas, where he and his wife grew and dried an enticing range of hot peppers to use in all manner of tempting food. If that’s your jam too, you might want to check out his cookery blog (see below) for some ideas. (He cooks meat, which I don’t, so carnivores will especially like his recipes, though he does vegetarian as well.) Over the years, Eben sent me care packages jammed with dried jalapenos, both plain and home smoked, which turns them into chipotle peppers. He even got me growing serrano chiles, which are great all-purpose peppers for full bodied flavor and fairly mild heat. This year, I grew some gorgeous Giant Ristra red peppers, which are big, glossy, and wow! A little too hot for me, though not for those who enjoy the incendiary types.
Over all, my favorites have been the delicious Alma paprika peppers, which are wonderfully flavorful at every stage: you can make sweet, mild, hot or sizzling paprika from the same plant by picking the peppers when they’re white, yellow, orange or red. Paprikas are tasty fresh and terrific when dried, but they’re most memorable when smoked. Indeed, smoking awakens the umami flavor in any vegetable or fruit, making it a useful technique for vegetarians and vegans as well as omnivores. I always give some Almas to a friend who smokes fish and he’ll smoke my paprikas over cherrywood, apple or alder in exchange for some of the final produce. Deal!
How To Dry Peppers
When the peppers come in all at once, I roast them and freeze them in strips to enliven winter meals. I also dry some, since it’s great to have dried chiles on hand. They definitely have intense flavors, and I find them most useful as flakes or ground to a coarse powder. For this, I use a (retired) coffee grinder which does a splendid job of flaking or pulverizing peppers. You can then freeze them, keeping a few week’s worth in tightly sealed glass jars out of direct sunlight (a dim cupboard is best).
To protect yourself, always use gloves when handling fresh chiles. Also, avoid touching yourself ANYWHERE, and keep some antihistamine (such as Benedryl) on hand in case of accidents. If hot peppers give your hands a “burn”, plunge them in cold water and take an antihistamine immediately; the burning sensation is a histamine response, so the usual burn treatments won’t help. Here’s another tip from direct experience; always work in a well ventilated space. When prepping peppers and when using a vegetable dehydrator, run a vent fan to avoid getting those volatile pepper oils in your eyes, nose, or throat and save yourself from a world of hurt.
When prepping peppers, some folks insist on removing the stems, while others say it does not matter. My brother leaves his pepper stems on and his results are terrific, so now I do too. Some folks also slice chiles into rings or strips, while others leave them whole. Whole dried peppers do seem to retain more power and punch than cut ones, and less handling is needed, so that’s how I roll. On warm, dry days, you can air dry fresh chiles, but in wet, cool weather, I dry them on rimmed baking sheets in single layers on parchment paper, in a low, slow oven. However, food dehydrators do the best job, with very consistent results, especially the kinds with a fan that circulates air constantly (try it first to see how loud the fan is while running).
Place your chiles on the dehydrator racks, alternating stem and pointy ends and leaving plenty of room between them. Set the dehydrator at a low temperature (around 140 degrees F is good). Turn them over (use tongs) after 4 hours to make sure they dry evenly. Most will be done within 8-10 hours, though larger ones may need 12 hours. Once dry, store your dried peppers in tightly sealed glass containers to keep them that way. Properly stored dried chiles and other peppers can last up to several years.
8 sweet &/or hot peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 teaspoon avocado oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Rub peppers with oil and place skin side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until well blackened (20-30 minutes), remove from heat, cover with a towel for 15 minutes, then peel and coarsely chop. Makes about 3 cups. Freeze in small containers for up to six months.
Tomato And Roasted Pepper Soup
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (with juice)
1 cup chopped roasted peppers (mix of hot/sweet is nice)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon honey
In a soup pot, cook oil, garlic, onion and salt over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, roasted peppers, black pepper and honey, along with water to barely cover. Bring to a simmer, cover pan and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender and serve hot. Serves 4.
For meatier recipes including killer chili, check out my brother’s cookery blog at: