The Southwestern cooking of Arizona and New Mexico closely resembles the cooking of Mexico. Chiles (or chili peppers) are a large part of these cuisines. Some of the more common peppers are finding their way into our supermarkets as well, as more members of our community have roots in Mexico and other Central American countries.
Chiles are a member of the capsicum genus and there are at least 200 varieties, with over 100 of them originating in Mexico. They vary in size from 1/4 inch to 12 inches. They also vary in heat from very mild to dangerously hot.
The large chiles are generally the mildest. It is the ribs or veins that contain the most capsaicin, the compound that causes the heat. The heat level is measured on the Scoville Scale, a subjective measurement of pungency and a function of capsaicin concentration. Capsaicin is purportedly very good for you, but its primary function is to provide that spicy sensation that can make food very exciting.
A sweet bell pepper registers zero on the Scoville Scale; an Anaheim pepper registers 500-1,000; a poblano, 1,000-3,500; a jalapeño, 2,500-8,000; a serrano, 5,000-23,000; and a habanero, 100,000-350,000.
If you split a pepper and scrape out the veins and seeds, it reduces the heat substantially. The heat is also reduced by cooking. The heat level is an acquired taste and takes a little practice before you come to enjoy these peppers. Be sure to handle hot peppers carefully, keeping them away from your eyes and washing your hands after preparation.
Here are some recipes that I found safe and delicious:
Stuffed Anaheim Peppers
Cut off the tops of 6 Anaheim peppers (or substitute poblano peppers) about 3/4 inch from the top and set tops aside. Using a small spoon, scrape out the veins and seeds.
Cook 1 cup basmati rice in 2 cups salted water until tender, then drain.
Rinse 1 can (15 ounces) of black beans in a colander, then place in a large bowl. Mash with a fork, leaving some of the beans whole. Add to the bowl 1 cup diced fresh tomato, 4 chopped scallions, 4 ounces goat cheese, 3/4 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix this together with a wooden spoon, then fold in the cooked rice.
Stuff the peppers and place the tops back on them, securing them with toothpicks.
Place on a foil-lined sheet pan and roast in a 425-degree oven for 30 minutes.
Roasted Jalapeño ‘Poppers’
Slice off about 1/3 of 12 green jalapeño peppers lengthwise and scrape out the veins and seeds with a small spoon.
Add to a bowl 4 ounces goat cheese, 4 ounces cream cheese and 4 ounces pepper jack cheese. Break the cheese apart with your hands, then mash together with a wooden spoon.Stir in 1/2 cup chopped cilantro and 1/2 cup finely minced scallions.
Fill the jalapeños with the cheese mixture as full as possible, then place on a foil-lined sheet pan and roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.
These are very good by themselves as a passed hors d’oeuvre or as an accompaniment to the above stuffed peppers.
Marinated Flank Steak
Place a 2 1/2-pound flank steak in a shallow casserole.
Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano, 1/4 cup minced scallions, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 1 teaspoon Mexican chili powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and the zest and juice of 1 lime.
Pour this marinade over the steak and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, turning once.
At service time, dry the steak with a paper towel and grill on a stove-top grill pan or under a broiler to desired doneness. Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing thin against the grain.
Note: I served this steak with the above peppers, placing the steak on top of the leftover pepper stuffing.
Roasted Pepper Sauce
Cut in half lengthwise 1 red bell pepper, 1 orange bell pepper and 1 green bell pepper and remove the veins and seeds. Place them cut side down on a foil-lined sheet pan.
Prepare 3 Anaheim (or poblano) peppers in the same way along with 1 jalapeño pepper.
Peel and cut 1 red onion into 1/4-inch slices.
Place the onions on the sheet pan with all the peppers. Broil them about 3 inches from the coil until they begin to blacken and the skin is blistered. Remove and cover the pan with foil and let rest for 15 minutes.
Place each pepper on a cutting board and scrape the skin off with a paring knife. Dice the bell peppers and the onion and set aside.
Cut up the Anaheim and jalapeño peppers and place in the bowl of a food processor.
Soak 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in hot water for 5 minutes, drain and add to the food processor along with 1 cup chopped cilantro, 1/2 cup parsley, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, the zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 teaspoon salt.
Process briefly, then add 1/4 cup olive oil in a stream. Remove and keep warm in a saucepan.
(This sauce is very good with broiled cod or grilled chicken breasts.)