Tuesday, August 23, 2011

where kick meets mellow

In which we create aCorn and Chili Salsa with fresh cilantro berries in the garden
Hot, hot, but definitely not haute (see below) did not assuage my yen for chilis -- or peppers or pimentos in other words. For I’ve been scouring the Farmers’ Market for ripe (not green) peppers, from mild and sweet to incendiary, but all flavorful. For I find I have a dawning and realizable fondness for that flavor so difficult to describe and yet addictive. You sense it, I think, way up at the top of your nose, almost between the eyes: It’s thin, almost windy, it’s sweet, it’s spicy to different degrees. I handled a very dangerous little red pepper at Woods’ Market Garden at the Farmers’ Market the other day, having been warned “Careful,” and could sense the hotness of it from it’s very outside unbroken skin. My fingers were slightly spicy when I let go of it, and when I licked them there was that hotness winding up my nostrils.
these little peppers were sweet and good, as was the eggplant next door
On the other hand, I bought some little round red peppers stuffed with a cream cheese filling – or was it fresh goat cheese – which were as sweet as candy. That was at Costello’s Market at the Marble Works in Middlebury.

The Farmers’ Market is as overflowing with Hungarian wax peppers as is my garden, and by diligent searching I have been able to find a long red sweet pepper called a bull’s horn, I believe, and jalapenos –  no Thai yet – and mildly spicy poblanos – which I adore – and little fat elongated pale green sweeties.

I had a selection of these the other day, and some day-old uncooked corn on the cob when I decided at the last minute to make a spicy and sweet, mild and gentle mélange of these things to be dipped up by tortilla chips. It would be my offering at Sundays-at-Five at the lake.

Sunday had been a busy one and by the time I was ready to get into the kitchen it was 4 o’clock, and I had one hour to make the dish and take a shower! Could I do it?

I asked Leo if he would shuck the corn while I put  pumpkin seeds toasting in a little coconut oil and garlic over a low heat. Meanwhile I blackened two poblano chilis and the long bull-horn one over the gas flame and slipped them into a paper bag to steam. I seeded and sliced two Hungarian wax peppers – I deemed their skins too thin to char and rub off – chopped up some onion that had been charred on the grill the night before, and two cloves of garlic. Cilantro was minced.

I put those aside while I cut the kernels from the six ears of corn, making  short and neat shrift of this usually messy and onerous task with my trusty Benriner mandolin, and put them to sauté in coconut oil over low heat. Remember, this mélange of tastes was to be oh-so-fresh-tasting, barely cooked, not fried. In a word, mellow!

Meanwhile I rubbed the charred skins from the peppers, seeded them, cut them into small squares and threw them into the pan with the corn. I cut a long yellow – vastly sweet – tomato into squares and tossed some of those in the pan. Ditto a small juicy red tomato.

Cilantro berries and flowers. They appear after the cilantro fronds, and when they
are dried turn into coriander::: Smart little things. They are a treat  available
only from the homemade garden

Added the onion, garlic, and Hungarian peppers. Sautéed just a bit more, drizzled that with the juice from half a lime, added a sprinkle of cumin/cinnamon/chipotle pepper I’d ground together, and the chopped cilantro. I scraped this mixture into a wide bowl and layered cubes of feta cheese over the top. Then a good scattering of the toasted pumpkin seeds that I’d intermittently shook and stirred until they were golden and began to pop like popcorn. As a lagniappe I tossed in some cilantro berries from my garden. They pop between the teeth juicily, giving  a surprising fresh touch of something between cilantro and coriander.

I looked at my watch. It was 4:35. Time for a shower.  The beach is 3 minutes from home. We arrived at a stylishly tardy 5:10pm. When people asked me what this dish was called I hummed and hawed::: what was it? Finally, I think it’s a Corn and Chili Salsa – where kick meets mellow!

Caveat: Do not try this at home with the same kind of deadline – you’re bound to spill your wine and take fifteen minutes to mop it up – as I did last night::: Drat!! – or something equally time consuming. This time I didn’t get the pans too hot, Leo didn’t come in and mess about cutting cheese and leaving the crumbs all over my work space. The stars were aligned – although Mercury was indeed retrograde, which seems to be a good thing for me. Anyway, I doubt I could do it again.

Check out my post from August of 2008 for Elizabeth David’s method of preserving red peppers here.

And then I found this pepper story --  one that hasn’t made it into a Twice Bitten column yet -- about my old Mexican food friend, Hedie. It was published in another column, my Small Bites, in 1993, I believe.

Those long green peppers – chilis – that I spoke of a couple of weeks ago, ended up strung in a heavy swag by the fireplace to dry.  Slowly, they are turning red.  But I wish I'd had Hedie Francis' note before I did that.  The way she treats a big batch of them is to roast them on the grill then place them, one by one, on a sheet on the ground by the grill, then cover them with towels until they've cooled.  Without picking off the blackened skin, she puts about 12 chilis in a ziplock freezer bag and that into the freezer.  "When we're ready to eat... I'll take a bag or two out to thaw.  Then I peel the skins off and pull off the stems," which pulls out most of the seeds and membranes, too.

With those peppers she might make...  Green Chili Enchiladas with Sour Cream:  Chop the chilis with garlic and salt, add water until saucy but thick, lightly fry corn tortillas and drain, then make layers of tortillas, chili, grated cheddar cheese, onion and sour cream.  "Delicious," she says.

 She also keeps a bowl of chopped green chili in a bowl in the fridge, with a little water and garlic and sometimes stewed tomatoes, to put on any old thing, such as eggs.

Now listen to this!  This is the way Hedie chops her green chilis – not in the food processor, and not with a knife, but "I use the lid off a vegetable can," the way she used to watch her grandma do it."  She has other suggestions too, because green chili preparations are a staple in Mexican and southwest cooking and eating, and Hedie is the expert on that... (this was published in my former Herald column, Small Bites, on 10/18/93).

I miss Hedie. She was a wonderful and generous Mexican food neighbor – she once brought me a quart jar of menudo when I was feeling off-kilter one winter. It saved my life, I think, thrillingly hot with chilis, with the unforgettable umami taste of  tripe. I would LOVE to find some good, grass-fed tripe!

Well that's it for peppers this August, folks.


Anonymous said...

Gosh: are you sure you're from fireless-food Michigan? Sometimes I have the hardest time with my chiles. You know, unintentional scalding of palates, fingers, child's tongue.

That said, once I made a pot of veggie tortilla soup for a work potluck and I nearly killed everyone (in the best way) so I envy you your menudo: I could never replicate the experience.

And one cook at a time in the kitchen! (it's the best marriage policy I have...)

sharon parquette nimtz said...

My daughter had a dish she liked because she couldn't see how I could throw a chili pepper into it. You're right, I didn't grow up with them, nor with garlic... But we all have to evolve. There IS that to look forward to.

W. Latane Barton said...

Chili peppers? hmmm. I'll have to think about that one. Grew up in the thickened gravy, friend chicken south and never heard of a chili pepper til I got grown!!

I was enjoying your food blog so much that I decided to start one for me, mostly using recipes I fed my family over the years. Hope you will check it out.