Tag Archives: chiles


The fresh produce season is beginning to wind down. You can feel it in the cooler mornings around here. That means the chile roasters shift into high gear, and corn season reaches its peak. There are lots of local farmers who grow excellent sweet corn, but arguably the best comes from a little town on Colorado’s Western Slope, Olathe. The town even have a noted Sweet Corn Festival in August.

My wife was gone for a few days to tend to some family matters in Texas. To celebrate her return, I thought a good meal would be pleasant in the now-beautiful evening. Even without prompting she declared in one of our phone calls that she did not want to go out to a restaurant. She can read my mind.

The pressure was on to come up with something tasty. Steak is always the obvious choice, but I’ve fixed that so many times when she returns from a trip that I knew she would be expecting it.  A pork chop makes a good substitute. That made me think of the abundance of fresh corn available right now. Then I got a cue from the New York Times. Melissa Clark had an article about elote: roasted ears of corn dusted with ground chiles along with lime juice and crema. Around here and along the border, elotes are popular street foods sold out of food carts and even little hand-pulled wagons. Delicious, but not very elegant. Esquites are nearly the same thing except the kernels of corn have been cut off the cob. That sounded great with grilled pork.

For a green vegetable, slaw made with raw Brussels sprouts instead of cabbage completed the menu.



Esquites (Corn Salad)


  • 2 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and silk removed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican crema or sour cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced with microplane
  • 5 scallions, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper or several snacking peppers, seeded and diced
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 4 ounces Mexican cojita cheese, crumbled (If you can’t find cojita, you can substitute feta)
  • salt and pepper
  • ground chiles, your choice of heat
  • 1 lime, cut in 8 wedges


  1. Roast the whole ears of corn until individual kernels are browned. I used my chile roaster, but you can use a dry frying pan over high heat, turning the corn frequently. You can also use your barbecue grill if you have it fired up. Remove the roasted corn from the heat, cool, and cut the kernels off the cobs using a sharp knife. Set aside the corn kernels if you plan to make the esquites later.
  2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium frying pan. Stir in the corn kernels and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in the sour cream, scallions, pepper, and cilantro. Cook for about 5 minutes until the peppers are softened.
  3. Stir in the crumbled cojita and stir gently until the cheese is well combined. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with ground chile. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

Brussels Sprout Slaw


  • 8-10 Brussels sprouts
  • 1 rib celery, diced
  • 4 scallions including greens, thinly sliced
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated with a coarse grater
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (about)
  • juice of ½ lime
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon minced dill fronds or dried dill weed
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Using a mandoline, shred the Brussels sprouts. If there are unshredded leaves remaining, chop with a large chef’s knife until the shreds are fine enough to please you..
  2. Stir in the celery, apple, and carrot. Add mayonnaise to taste along with the lime juice.
  3. Stir in the celery seed and minced dill fronds. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.


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My friend, Reggie, has invited me to cook with him at the upcoming California State Championship Chili Cook-Off. I have accepted the offer. He is fun to be around, and the competition is in California wine country.

Reggie is an excellent chili cook, and he has won many contests over the years. I have previously written about his exploits at the Terlingua International Chili Championship. I, on the other hand, have only entered one other contest, and that was over ten years ago.

Clearly, I don’t know what I am doing (There is nothing new about that!) so I have been reading about chili and practicing my chili cooking. Reggie was very generous in giving me his recipe for competition chili, but I wanted to know a little more about the ingredients and why things got added when they did.  I made a practice run with his recipe, but I still needed more information. This is my report.

First, there is the matter of spelling. If you live in New Mexico, chile is spelled with an “E”, and everybody knows that refers to the plant, the peppers that grow on the plant, and the powder that is made by grinding up the peppers (also called ground chiles or – in Spanish – chile molido). If you live in Texas, chili is spelled with an “I”. Unfortunately, not everybody knows that the word refers to a meat and gravy concoction that includes a seasoning made up of ground-up chiles along with cumin, garlic, and other ingredients that is known as chili powder. To add to the confusion, there is an abandoned railroad line in New Mexico known as the Chili Line. I think it mainly carried forest products.  In the UK, the peppers are called chillis, so there you are.

On top of all this, there are at least 200 different chiles, and new ones are being developed all the time. In the US Southwest, the most common chiles are New Mexicos, Anaheims, jalapeños, poblanos, serranos, güeros, Santa Fe grandes, habaneros, and arbols – among others. Then, if you smoke a jalapeño it becomes a chipotle. If you dry a poblano it becomes an ancho. The well-known Southwestern chef, Mark Miller, has put together a beautiful little book, complete with beautiful images, to make this understandable. The book is called, The Great Chile Book, published in 1991 by Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.

It becomes clear that the spice master has a wide palette to choose from when he or she decides to grind up a batch of Texas chili powder. Besides, the chile can be left raw, smoked, dry roasted, etc., etc., giving a myriad of options, never mind the cumin (dry roasted or not) and the ingredients that are top secret. Getting the recipe for commercial chili powders is like asking about instructions for building an atomic bomb.

Then, there is the rivalry of various purveyors. Gebhardt’s and Mexene are two brands that may be available at your local grocery store, and they are still  used in cooking competitions. Pendery’s has been making chili powders for over a ceentury, and Mild Bill’s has a following because champion cooks have used their chili powders.  At both, the choices available to the buyer rival the choices in an upscale wine shop.

Fort Worth Light and the alternative Cow Town Light (Fort Worth is known as Cow Town, get it?), San Antonio Light, San Antonio Red,  RT-Rio Tejas, Spice Mistress, and New Mexico Light are different mixes that have their own characteristics as well as guidelines as to when you add them during the cooking process. Timing is everything, because with cooking, the various powders lose their punch, and it is essential to have just the right balance of flavors at the minute the chili competition entry is turned in to the judges.

Is it any wonder that it takes years of practice and the refinement of a recipe to become a competitive chili cook who is repeatedly among the top entrants? I am clearly in over my head, but competitions are more than winning (REALLY??) There is the chance to have a beer – or more – with old friends. There’s the travel and seeing new places. It’s easy to see why folks can become what they call chili heads. I shall keep you posted on my progress and my success or lack thereof.




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Our family has lived in the Southwest USA long enough that we have adopted many of the local traditions, especially those that have to do with food and with Christmas. For many years we have gathered around the kitchen table on Christmas Eve to make and then eat tamales.

The event is festive, with everyone laughing and each person assigned a particular task. Susan usually prepares the masa – always with lard, and beaten until the dough floats on water to show that it has enough incorporated air. I prepare the corn husks in hot water so that they are pliable and can be used to wrap up the dough and filling. Others make the filling. Our favorite is chicken. The recipe came from the back of a bag of masa harina from many years ago.

Pork in red chile is more traditional, and we sometimes make those, too, but our family favorite is chicken with an unusual ingredient – olives.

After the filling and dough are prepared, the teamwork and fun begin.  Some spread the masa dough on the corn husks. Others put on the filling. Others wrap up the tamales. We try to make things come out even with just enough filling for the masa dough. Usually it doesn’t, and we have a little of one or the other left over. Even at that, we always wind up with enough tamales for everyone to get their fill.

Finally, the tamales  are stacked on a trivet in a big pot to be steamed. The steamer pot is put on the stove, and the tamales are cooked to perfection.

While we wait – it may take an hour or so – we sit around the Christmas tree and enjoy a mug of home-made eggnog. Then the feast begins before it is time for bed and dreams of Christmas Day.

This year, Sarah and her son will join us for a few days before Christmas while Carol and her family will arrive on Christmas Eve so we won’t be able to have our tamales party. Instead we will make them ahead, freeze them, and then thaw and steam them for each of our visiting families.





  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ cup taco sauce, canned or homemade
  • 1/3 cup black olive slices
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups shredded cooked chicken


  • 1 cup lard (may substitute vegetable shortening)
  • 2½ cups masa harina
  • 2 teaspoons ground red chiles (do not use chili powder)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1¾ cups chicken stock

Corn husks for filling (about 2 dozen, soaked in hot water)


  • Sauté onions in oil. Then add taco sauce, olives, cumin, salt, and chicken.  Combine well, cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then set aside.
  • In a stand mixer, cream the lard (or shortening) until fluffy. Then add masa harina, chiles, salt, and chicken stock. Continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy enough that a small piece of the dough floats in water.
  • Divide the masa into 24 balls. Spread each of the dough balls onto a soaked corn husk so that the dough comes to the edge of the husk. Place a good-sized tablespoon of the filling on the dough, fold over the two edges of the husk so that the dough completely covers the filling. Then fold over the two edges of the corn husk so that the dough completely covers the filling. Fold the tail of the folded husk over the tamal.
  • Stack the finished tamales on a trivet over water in a large kettle
  • Steam, covered, over gently boiling water for about one hour or until the masa does not stick to the corn husks. Serve warm with your favorite chile sauce or molé.
  • If you choose to freeze the tamales, thaw them completely before steaming.

Don’t try to make the dough without a mixer as the dough is heavy and it really does need to float in water before you quit beating. That’s hard on the modern wrist. You can use vegetable shortening if you wish, but the tamales are never as tasty as those made with lard. Choose your own degree of heat with the ground chiles. Personally, I prefer “hot”, but some in our family are incredibly sensitive so we choose “mild”. You can always douse your personal tamales with hot sauce.

IMPORTANT: Remember to remove the corn husk wrapper before you eat the tamal.

There should be about 2 dozen tamales.


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Visitors to Santa Fe usually think of it as a visual place: the clouds and mesas that so enchanted Georgia O’Keeffe, the ancient adobe buildings around the Plaza, and the color of a fiesta. There are also sounds: the quiet of a December snow, crashing thunderstorms in the middle of summer, and the calls of geese and cranes flying overhead in the spring and fall. But Santa Fe is every bit a place of wonderful smells: lilacs pushing over an adobe wall in the springtime, the smell of a winter’s piñon fire burning in a fireplace near the Plaza. This time of year, the smell is of green chiles roasting. It is a fragrance like no other, and once you experience it, you never forget it.

Chiles have been growing during the hot summer throughout the state. Perhaps the most famous chile crop comes from Hatch,, but there are also bountiful sources in Chimayó and Socorro along with many a back yard.

All sorts of chiles at the farmers market


When the chiles are ready for harvest, they are loaded into big gunny sacks and taken by truck all over the state. In Santa Fe, growers set up stalls throughout the city where they roast the green chiles on the spot in a revolving metal mesh drum over a blazing butane flame. The tough outer coat of the chiles is charred in the process so that it can be peeled off in preparation for cooking. The roasting creates a pungent, unmistakable smell that fills the air.

The farmers market also boasts chile roasters who make the festive environment even more vibrant.

Chile roasting at the farmers market

The spin of the chile roaster

The buyer can get a whole gunny sack full of roasted chiles or even a small plastic bag. Then the task is to take them home, peel off the charred skin, and either cook or freeze them for the winter ahead.

If you don’t need a green chile supply for the whole winter, you can even do them yourself on the barbecue or, better yet, on a special device made of metal screen and designed to sit over a gas flame. The device is indispensable for the Santa Fe cook. One can be ordered from the Santa Fe Cooking School.

Chile roasting pan

Roasting chiles

Roasted chiles resting in plastic bag before peeling

Green chiles wind up in just about every Santa Fe dish you can think of, including ice cream, but probably the most popular dishes are green chile stew, green chile cheeseburger, and my favorite, chiles rellenos.

Making a chile relleno is an act of love  because the preparation takes a lot of steps, and the chiles have to be eaten immediately. A leftover chile relleno is a soggy shadow of its former self. Still, they are worth the effort, especially when they are covered with a fresh salsa roja.  Here’s how you do it.

Roasted chiles peeled and ready for batter

Cheese pieces and chiles ready for stuffing


Chiles Rellenos


  • 6 to 12 Anaheim or New Mexico chiles
  • Monterey jack cheese, one ½x½x4 inch piece of cheese for each chile
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • all-purpose flour for dredging chiles
  • peanut oil for deep-frying

Two parts of batter before combining

Coating the chiles with batter


  • Purchase roasted chiles or roast your own on a chile roasting pan over a high flame, a very hot barbecue grill, or in the oven under the drill. Turn frequently until all sides of all chiles are heavily charred.
  • Immediately place the chiles in a plastic bag and allow to cool. Then remove the chiles from the bag, and under running water peel the charred skin carefully so as not to tear the flesh of the chiles.
  • Cut off the stems of the chiles, pull out the seeds and inner membranes using your fingers. Rinse out the chiles to remove any loose seeds.
  • Gently stuff each chile with one of the pieces of cheese and set aside on paper towels.
  • In the meantime, prepare the batter by combining egg yolks, milk, flour, salt and vegetable oil using a rotary egg beater. Let the mixture blend for  30 minutes while you whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
  • Gently fold the yolk and milk mixture into the whipped egg whites until well combined.
  • Dredge each prepared chile into flour. Then dip the chiles individually into the combined batter.
  • While preparing the chiles, pour enough peanut oil into a deep-sided heavy pot (A cast iron skillet works well) and heat to 375°F.
  • One at a time, place the batter-coated chiles into the hot oil. Cook no more than two at a time. Otherwise the chiles may stick together.
  • Turn the chiles when well browned on the bottom and finish frying the other side. Remove from the hot oil and drain on layers of paper towels.
  • Keep the finished chiles on a plate in an oven heated to 200°F until all of the chiles are fried. Serve immediately. Otherwise they may get soggy.

Testing oil temperature with a cube of bread

Chiles rellenos frying

Quick Salsa Roja


  • 1 14.5ounce can, diced tomatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dry Mexican oregano, crumbled
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons ground red chiles (amount and heat according to your taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • In a blender, purée the canned tomatoes, including their juice
  • Transfer the puréed tomato to a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to the simmer
  • Stir in the remaining ingredients until completely combined. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes

Finished chiles rellenos ready to serve


  • Place two or three warm chiles rellenos on each plate
  • Top with a generous serving of the salsa
  • Add rice and/or beans (refried or other) if you desire.

Chiles rellenos with rice and fresh pear with green chile raspberry preserves and almonds

I finished the meal with rice and a fresh pear-half filled with green chile flavored raspberry preserves (no kidding) and blanched almonds.


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The other night we were aware that LSU was playing for the national championship in football. As former Louisianans with direct ties to LSU, we should have been planning a big TV watching party complete with gumbo or that Monday night standby in New Orleans, red beans and rice. Instead we watched an old movie and enjoyed the last of some molé rojo which one of our daughters had sent to us as a Christmas gift. To be honest, we enjoyed the old movie more than watching the drubbing administered by the Crimson Tide, and the molé made a quick meal outstanding.

Pot of freshly made molé rojo

Classic molés have the reputation of requiring many ingredients and a long cooking process. Indeed, Rick Bayless presents his “streamlined” version in his excellent cookbook, “Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico,” William Morrow and Company, New York, 1987, pp 201-203. For the recipe, go to the book, but I thought it would be interesting to provide the list of ingredients. The process involves many steps.


4 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined

2 medium dried mulatto chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined

1 medium dried pasilla chile, stemmed seeded and deveined

1½ Tablespoons sesame seeds

⅓ Cup lard

2 heaping Tablespoons unskinned peanuts

2 Tablespoons raisins

½ medium onion, thickly sliced

1 clove garlic, peeled

½ stale corn tortilla

1 slice dried, firm white bread

1 ripe medium tomato

3 medium tomatillos

¾ ounce Mexican chocolate, chopped

½ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf 8 peppercorns

3 cloves

1 inch cinnamon stick

5 Cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

Clearly, the real thing is a labor of love and considerable skill. If you can’t or don’t want to go to all the trouble, bottled versions are at hand. But you will have to be satisfied with second best. Still a handy jar serves as the basis for a quick meal.

Here is my version of quick chicken enchilada casserole – certainly not authentic – but a good supper dinner for a chilly winter evening.

Chicken enchilada casserole ready for the oven


2 chicken thighs

4 Cups chicken stock

1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano leaves, crumbled

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

2 ounces cheddar cheese, coarsely grated + more for sprinkling on top of the casserole

2 ounces Monterey jack cheese, coarsely grated + more for sprinkling on top of the casserole

½ medium onion, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

8 fresh corn tortillas

2 Cups molé rojo Sour cream for topping

1. In a medium sauce pan, place chicken thighs in the stock, bring to a boil, reduce to a low boil, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked. Strain the stock and reserve for another purpose. Cool the cooked chicken, remove the meat from the bones, and chop coarsely.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chicken, oregano, cumin, cheeses, and onion. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

3. Meanwhile wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and heat for about 10 minutes at 180° in the oven until soft.

4. One at a time, fill the tortillas with the chicken mix, roll, and place seam-side down in a greased 8 x 8 inch baking dish.

5. When you have filled all of the tortillas, cover them with the molé rojo, sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese, cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake in the middle of a pre-heated oven at 300° until the enchiladas are completely heated and the cheese has melted.

6. Serve immediately with a generous tablespoonful of sour cream.

Chicken enchilada with molé rojo and sour cream ready to eat

Serves 2


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The weather around here is still hot, but the smell of autumn is already in the air. That’s because the chile roasters have set up their stands around the city and have big burlap bags bursting with green chiles to be roasted. There are a couple of popular kinds – Hatch chiles from southern New Mexico and Chimayós from the northern mountains. Whatever the source, the process is the same: the vendor fills up a big mesh cage with fresh chiles and then turns the cage over a blazing hot fire from a blow torch or some other propane-driven device. Gradually the chiles become charred black, and the wonderful, tell-tale aroma wafts into the breezes filling the whole city with this unique smell of early autumn. Then you buy a plastic bag filled with chiles of your choice – mild to incendiary – and take them home to peel and seed and chop (depending upon what you want to do with them) so that they can be frozen away for the winter’s supply for chiles rellenos, green chile cheeseburgers, or just salsa. Of course you can do all of the roasting at home, and many folks do, but we prefer to roast on a much smaller scale.

Red-hot roasting grille

Fortunately, a device has been invented locally to let you roast just a few chiles as you need them. The Santa Fe School of Cooking, http://santafeschoolofcooking.com ,  sells a handy stove-top grill for $29.95. The grill is made of steel mesh stretched across a steel ring with two wooden handles to protect your fingers from the heat. In just a few minutes, you can heat up the grill, char a few chiles, and get ready for a real chile feast. We use the grill for our allotment of Hatch or Chimayó chiles, but we also use it to roast ordinary bell peppers for an easy and delicious appetizer.

Fresh peppers on roasiting grille

So here’s what you do: Turn your stove burner on high. A gas range works much better than electric. I’m not even sure if you can use radiant heat, because you need to get your grill red-hot. Put the grill over the flame and wait until the steel mesh begins to glow. Then arrange your chiles or bell peppers on top. You can fill up the grill, but don’t crowd it as the skin of every pepper needs to get blistering hot and char. Let the peppers sit undisturbed on the grill until the surface touching the grill has completely charred and turned black. Then turn the peppers to expose another surface. Keep charring and turning until the whole pepper is black. Don’t forget the ends. Put the charred peppers in a plastic bag that can be closed or sealed, and let them cool completely. If you have done your job correctly, the charred skin can be removed easily under a stream of running water. Peel the peppers, core them, and remove the seeds. You are now ready to make smoked peppers in garlic olive oil.

  • 4 roasted bell peppers, preferably one each of green, red, yellow, and orange
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced very thinly
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 12 to 15  whole black peppercorns
  • extra virgin olive oil, enough to cover the peppers in a bowl

Peppers getting their char

Place the smoked, peeled peppers on a cutting board and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Then place the pepper pieces, sliced garlic, salt, and peppercorns in a bowl that is deep enough to hold them comfortably. Add enough olive oil to cover the mixture, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let sit on a kitchen counter at room temperature. Two or three times each day for two days, turn the mixture, re-cover, and let marinate at room temperature.  The peppers should be ready to serve with crackers or thin slices of bread so that each guest can spoon a pepper piece and a little olive oil on the cracker or bread and pop it into his or her mouth. The sliced garlic is good, too.

Marinated peppers with garlic

Yield: Four peppers make enough for 8 persons

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