Maybe it’s because the outside temperature is down in the teens, and my backyard looks like Siberia. Whatever the reason, I’ve been thumbing through a wonderful book of traditional New Mexico recipes that a friend gave me. Just reading them warms me up. The most common ingredients are beans, blue corn tortillas, and hot, hot chile peppers (chili and chilli are also acceptable spellings, not to be confused with the soupy red Tex-Mex dish made from beans and meat).
Chiles have been part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. The Aztecs accorded chiles the status of a minor god. Christopher Columbus called them peppers because they tasted like the precious spice. After Spanish explorers brought them to Europe, they were used as a cheaper substitute for black peppercorns. Their use in cooking and medicine swiftly spread throughout the world.
What makes chiles hot and spicy? It’s a substance called capsaicin. The amount of capsaicin in a chile determines its hotness. In high concentrations, capsaicin can actually burn flesh. The heat of a chile is measured in Scoville units. Without going into technical details, here are some examples: 15-16 million Scoville units is pure capsaicin. 5-6 million units is police grade pepper spray. On the lower end of the scale, green bell peppers have an index of 0. Jalapenos measure from 2,500 to 8,000, most habaneros from 100,000 to 350,000. The Naga Viper pepper, which has potential use in medicine and weaponry, has an index of 850,000 to over a million. Ouch.
Cooks working with hot chiles are cautioned to wear rubber gloves. The customary way to prepare them (this for New Mexico green chiles) is to slit the pods lengthwise, remove the seeds and veins and roast them under the broiler or on a grill. When the skin blisters and blackens, peel it off, and the flesh of the pepper is ready to use (or do what I do and buy them canned). Chile aficionados say that once you get used to the taste, the memory stays with you, and you can’t wait to have more.
How about you? Are you a lover of hot peppers, or do you leave them alone? Do you have a favorite hot Southwest dish?
On another note, here’s an early peek at my new cover. THE WIDOWED BRIDE will be a March release. I’ll tell you more about it next month, or you can check it out now on my web site, www.elizabethlaneauthor.com.
I like this cover except for one thing. Ruby, my heroine, is a voluptuous redhead. Who is the pretty, slender brunette with my hero? Go figure.
Wishing you a warm January.