Slather these cheddar jalapeno chicken burgers with guacamole. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Slather these cheddar jalapeno chicken burgers with guacamole. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

5 jalapeno recipes — but not poppers — because some like it hot

A few of these dishes are glorious enough without jalapenos. If you don’t like it hot, leave them out.

  • Wednesday, August 14, 2019 6:39am
  • Life

By Daniel Neman / St. Louis Post-Dispatch

With due respect to Mrs. Gump, my mama always said life was like a bag of jalapenos: You never know how spicy it is going to be until you bite into one.

And that’s the problem with jalapenos in general. You could have two of the peppers side by side, identical in every way. You bite into one and it produces a pleasant, faint tingle on your tongue, like fairy dust. Then you nibble on the other and it melts your ears.

Jalapenos are a most inconstant fruit. So why do we love them so much?

Because they are just that good.

In my youth, I occasionally used to eat entire jalapenos raw. We all do stupid things when we are young, and that was one of mine. I didn’t enjoy it, but I thought I should.

Fortunately, I am older and wiser now. I take my peppers in smaller doses. I also make absolutely certain to wash my hands thoroughly and then wash them again whenever I touch a jalapeno that has been cut open. That’s a mistake that you only make once.

I began my exploration of jalapenos by making one of my very favorite things, a green hot sauce that is overspilling with flavor and goes on everything from eggs to chicken to fish to even salads.

It’s simple to make, though it takes a little effort. What distinguishes this sauce from so many others is that it begins with a blend of green chiles — mostly serranos, but also jalapenos and Anaheims, to give layers of flavor to the heat.

But this isn’t an article about serranos, so I made a batch mostly out of jalapenos.

This version was brighter in taste, and sharper. It was also, um, impressively hot. Even so, it was so spectacular, so intriguingly flavored, so utterly addictive that two photographers and I made a healthy dent in the batch, even while complaining about the heat.

Still, next time I will go back to using more serranos and fewer jalapenos.

I also made jalapeno-cilantro pickled corn which, for all its fancy name, is just corn relish with a little bit of a kick, but not much.

What it does have is a delightful, fresh flavor, with just enough acid in the pickling liquid to give it a little bit of an edge. The taste is summery and mild, because it is a quick pickle (or as we like to call it around here, a quickle).

Some pickles can be harsh because they are over-pickled. But quick pickles, as the name suggests, are done quickly and are made in a weak brine. That allows the vegetables — in this case, corn, jalapeno and onion — to keep their flavors pure while still exhibiting an enjoyable tartness.

My next dish was a green harissa, which turns out to be almost entirely unlike a regular harissa.

Harissa is a staple of North Africa, a condiment used in vegetable dishes, on grilled meat, spread over fish, as a dip with bread or with eggs. A red paste, it is fiery hot with a pleasantly smoky flavor.

Gjusta’s green harissa, on the other hand, is mild and earthy in taste. It is almost like a pesto, with chopped arugula, cilantro and parsley, plus garlic and a single jalapeno. No wonder it has so little heat.

But it does have a solidly satisfying flavor. Though green harissa is unlike red harissa, it is every bit as versatile. You can use it in vegetable dishes, on grilled meat, spread over fish, as a dip with bread, with eggs and more.

I tried it with chicken, and it was terrific.

Because I was still hungry, I made cheddar jalapeno chicken burgers with guacamole, in which the jalapeno is mixed into ground chicken before being formed into patties.

This is another case where the particular jalapeno was on the (very) mild side. But the burgers were marvelously flavorful because of all the other good things that were also mixed into the patties: onion, garlic, cilantro, cumin, paprika and shredded cheddar cheese.

You can’t go wrong with all of those ingredients blended into a chicken burger (for beef, I’d leave out the cumin and paprika), and it is even better when you top it with guacamole, a slice of red onion and sour cream.

And if you happen upon a jalapeño that actually has a kick to it, the burger would be better still.

Next, I made an absolutely lovely side dish, smashed fingerling potatoes with jalapenos.

Here, the fingerlings are first baked. While still warm, they are tossed in a simple vinaigrette made from olive oil, whole grain mustard and sherry vinegar (you could also use red wine vinegar, but the sherry vinegar makes it sublime).

The jalapeno is added at the end, in thin slices. It adds a nice little counterpoint of heat.

But frankly, the dish is glorious enough without it. If you don’t like it hot, just leave it out.

Cheddar jalapeno chicken burgers with guacamole

1½ pounds ground chicken

½ cup finely chopped yellow onion

¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 teaspoons chopped jalapeño

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

⅓ cup finely shredded cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper

4 hamburger buns, toasted

½ cup sour cream

1 cup guacamole

Lettuce, optional

Sliced red onions, optional

Prepare a grill for medium heat (or use a skillet with a little oil on it).

Transfer the ground chicken to a medium bowl. Add the onion, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, paprika, cheddar cheese, salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix everything together. Make sure everything is evenly incorporated without overmixing the ground chicken.

Form the mixture into 4 (½-inch thick) patties. Cook burgers over medium heat until cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Serve each patty in a burger bun topped with sour cream and guacamole and any additional toppings needed.

Makes 4 servings. Nutrition per serving: 597 calories; 32 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 164 milligrams cholesterol; 34 grams protein; 38 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams sugar; 7 grams fiber; 1,239 milligrams sodium; 221 milligrams calcium.

— Recipe by whatsgabycooking.com

Green hot sauce dresses up sunny-side-up eggs. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Green hot sauce dresses up sunny-side-up eggs. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Green hot sauce

½ pound serrano chiles

¼ pound jalapenos

¼ pound poblano or Anaheim peppers

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons honey

Note: This mixture of peppers yields a very hot but very flavorful sauce. If you want it milder, use more poblano or Anaheim peppers and fewer jalapenos or serranos, while still keeping 1 total pound of peppers. If you want it hotter, use more jalapenos and fewer serranos, while still keeping 1 total pound of peppers.

Preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place chiles on prepared baking sheet and poke holes in each one with a fork. Broil 10 inches from broiler until tops start to blacken, about 5 to 10 minutes. Flip and broil until tops start to blacken, another 5 to 10 minutes. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap at least 15 minutes.

Wearing gloves (seriously — wear the gloves), remove the skins, the stems and many seeds as possible. Place in a food processor or blender along with the vinegar, salt, lime juice and honey. Process until smooth, about 1 minute.

Makes 16 servings. Nutrition per serving: 21 calories; 1 gram fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 3 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams sugar; 1 gram fiber; 119 milligrams sodium; 99 milligrams calcium.

— Based on a lost recipe

Jalapeno-cilantro pickled corn, for all its fancy name, is just corn relish with a little bit of a kick. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Jalapeno-cilantro pickled corn, for all its fancy name, is just corn relish with a little bit of a kick. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Jalapeno-cilantro pickled corn

4 ears of corn

½ small onion (yellow or red), thinly sliced

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced

4 large sprigs cilantro

1 cup distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 (1-quart) canning jar or 2 (1-pint) jars with lids

Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Cook corn in a large pot of boiling water until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Set in ice bath to cool. Drain; cut kernels from cobs and place in a large bowl. Add onion, jalapeño and cilantro, and mix well. Transfer mixture to jar or jars.

Bring vinegar, salt, sugar and 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Pour hot brine over mixture in jar, and cover. Let cool, then chill. Will keep in refrigerator for 2 months.

Makes 16 servings. Nutrition per serving: 24 calories; 1 gram fat; 1 gram saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 gram protein; 5 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams sugar; 1 gram fiber; 1,518 milligrams sodium; no calcium.

— Recipe from Bon Appétit

Smashed fingerlings make a lovely sidedish with or without the sliced jalapenos. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Smashed fingerlings make a lovely sidedish with or without the sliced jalapenos. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Smashed fingerlings with jalapenos

3 pounds fingerling potatoes, halved crosswise if large

½ cup olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper

¼ cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced into rounds, seeds removed if desired

¼ cup (lightly packed) chopped parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss potatoes with ¼ cup of the oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown and tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly, then lightly flatten.

Meanwhile, whisk vinegar and mustard in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in remaining ¼ cup oil until emulsified; season with salt and pepper. Add potatoes, jalapeno and parsley, and toss. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes 8 servings. Nutrition per serving: 137 calories; 2 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; no cholesterol; 3 grams protein; 27 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams sugar; 4 grams fiber; 52 milligrams sodium; 21 milligrams calcium.

— Recipe from Bon Appétit

Gjusta’s green harissa — which is almost like a pesto — gives a nice heat to chicken thighs. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Gjusta’s green harissa — which is almost like a pesto — gives a nice heat to chicken thighs. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Gjusta’s green harissa

½ onion, halved

1 tomatillo, husk removed, rinsed

1 jalapeno, halved, seeds removed from 1 half

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon plus ½ cup olive oil

2 cups cilantro leaves, with tender stems

2 cups parsley leaves with tender stems

2 cups arugula

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest or 1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss onion, tomatillo, jalapeño and garlic in 1 tablespoon of the oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing once, until vegetables are soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Place vegetables in a food processor along with cilantro, parsley, arugula, vinegar, lemon zest and remaining 1/2 cup of oil. Purée until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Makes 24 servings. Nutrition per serving: 10 calories; 1 gram fat; 1 gram saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 gram protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; 1 gram sugar; 1 gram fiber; 124 milligrams sodium; 12 milligrams calcium.

— Recipe from Bon Appétit

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