Saturday, October 8, 2011

Harvest Ingredient 7: Green Chiles

So many New World foods come from just one large plant family:  The Nightshade family.  In addition to chiles or "peppers," tomatoes, potatoes, Tomatillos, Tamarillo, Ground Cherry, Garden Huckleberry, and Florida's own Turkey Berry.  Sacred Tobacco also comes from this family.  Only Eggplants are the nightshade member that is not native to the New World that is routinely used for food the world over.

Chile peppers are native to south America, and the oldest seeds that have been found in an archaeological dig date to 7500 BC; with provable cultivation dates to around 6000 BC in what is now central America.  By the time Columbus showed up in the Caribbean in 1492, they were wide spread in cultivation from south America, central America, Mexico and all over the Caribbean.  There were literally hundreds of varieties, at all levels of hotness.

New Mexican Green

Although these days a great deal of green chile preparations are automatically associated with the American southwest, there is really no evidence that the long type chiles now known the New Mexican chile was grown there in pre-contact times.  Which always seemed strange to me, since there were very ancient trade routes to the region from much farther south.  During Toltec times, for instance, there was a definable "road" to what is now New Mexico.  Called the "Turquoise Road" in modern times, it reached all the way from the Toltec capital of Tollan, now known as Tula in what is now the modern state Hidalgo in Mexico, with serious defensive forts along the way, to Pueblo Bonito, where some rare trace of Cocoa was found in the bottom of pottery not indigenous to the area.  So why not chiles??  I don't know; possibly it was an agricultural thing, because of the defensive shape of the city??  Lack of proper irrigation?  Just doesn't make a lot of sense

Green Poblanos

Whatever the answer to that ancient question is, they are most definitely associated with the area now!  Variations on Green Chile Stew can be found everywhere, in native and non-native households alike.  Although not dried in the quantity as red chile pods are, you will notice above, that they are hung of strings called ristras to sun dry in some quantity.  The most common way to use them in most recipes calls for them to be roasted first.  

The most common types of green chiles that are used fresh, although there are plenty of recipes that call for them to be roasted as well, are the Serrano and the Jalapeno.  These are chopped or ground raw and added to salsas, Guacamole recipes and used are garnishes.  The ultra hot Scotch Bonnets and the dreaded Habanero are also sometimes used in their green state, especially to make bottle hot sauces; but most often they are used in their ripe state.



Green Habanero

Green Scotch Bonnet

The list of dishes that they can be used in is almost endless, of course, in addition to the ones mentioned above, the are grace Green Chile Sauces (somewhat different for "regular salsa"), Posole Stews, Green Chile Crema, Enchilada Sauce, Green Chile Soups, Tortilla Soups, Chilaquiles (Tortilla Casserole), in Corn Soups, rolled into Burritos, put into Cornbreads, and pressed in Quesadillas.   There is a whole class of green chile tamales, usually made with chicken or pork.  Roasted, peeled and sliced, they are Rajas, which can be served as a side dish, put into salsas, used in tacos or as a garnish.  Roasted, they can be frozen for future use.  Raw they are tossed into ceviches, used as a garnish, or made into a hot jelly.  In Mexico, a time honored native remedy to a stomach ache is to eat a whole raw serrano!  Indeed, the old medical advice to avoid spicy food and drink milk if you have an ulcer, has turned out to be so false and detrimental, that the philosophy has been reversed and some treat ulcers with hot sauce and cayenne capsules!  I can personally attest to this!

Some modern Southwestern and Texas application of them include:  Green Chile Cheese Grits (great with Fried Trout!), Green Chile Mac n Cheese, Green Chile Cheeseburgers, Green Chile Chowder, Green Chile Deviled Eggs, Green Chile Meatloaf, Green Chile Mustard and Green Chile Quiches.  They are tossed into green rice and even adorn a Fideo, that is pasta, dish that hails from Northern Mexico.  They are also now made into all types of festive Christmas dishes, like cream cheese and sour cream dips, along with red chiles.  In our house we have a special Christmas sushi roll made red and green with them!  They can even be candied.

Savory Green Chile Cane Rolls

After what is known as the "Columbian exchange," chiles quickly spread all over the world and many classic dishes of international renown have arisen.  They are curried in India and Thailand, the Thai also use them with traditional lemongrass and Thai basil, Hungary has Chicken Paprika, China has Pepper Steak, Spain has smoked paprika, and where anti pastas and mezes be without pickled peppers like pepperoncini?  In Africa they are made into super hot seasoning mixtures.  They are used in seriously utilized in native ways in the Pacific and Australia has a "Green Pepper Cocktail."  They've even become a staple in the vegetarian diets of Zen Monasteries in Japan.

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