Chilies and peppers heat up winter dinners

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez
  • Tuesday, January 25, 2005 9:00pm
  • Life

Why not get into 2005 with a bang with chilies? Versatile veggies with an innate flair. Or is that flare?

It just depends, really, on which one you’re working with, now doesn’t it? Indeed, the greatest fun in cooking with chilies is that each variety brings such distinct characteristics to the kitchen. There are the industrial-strength chili pequins, jalapenos and cayennes, and the more mild-mannered Anaheims, poblanos, sweet bells, Hungarian waxes and all the varieties in between.

Even as this year is in its infancy, and despite the fact that the Dominguez household was far more successful at producing spiders than chilies last summer, I’m already dreaming of this year’s capsicum crop. It’s not too early to begin mulling over seed packets and nursery sources for the types you want to track down. This spring, my crop shall be very broad in variety – lots of colors, flavors and degrees of heat – so that I can experiment with a vast array of recipes from my own garden rather than relying on what’s available in the market.

So as I continue to adjust to a new year, chilies help me make the transition in the culinary sense. Plenty of variety, flavor and zing. If that sounds good to you, then here are a few of my favorite chili recipes to get you started.

“The chilies” is the only name my family uses when referring to this specialty I developed many years ago. It’s a classic in our house – a few steps beyond quick-and-easy, but totally worth it. Delicious as a first course or side dish for an elegant American Southwest or Mexican meal. It also makes a nice light meal when served with a side of rice and a salad.

The chilies

8Anaheim chilies, each one measuring 5 or 6 inches long

2 cups red or white wine vinegar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Cream cheese filling (recipe follows)

Salsa (commercial brand or homemade)

1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese

Cut one lengthwise slit in each chili (to prevent bursting), then roast either under the heating element in the oven, or over a stove gas burner, or on a grill, turning as each side blisters and blackens. Place the roasted chilies in a plastic bag and let sit for about 10 minutes so the steam can loosen the skins. Remove chilies from bag and scrape away the blackened skin. Cut each chili open lengthwise, leaving an inch uncut at each end) and remove the seeds. Leave the stem end intact, because it makes a pretty presentation. Place the chilies in a resealable plastic bag and set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, vegetable oil, cumin seeds, garlic cloves, sugar and salt; bring to a boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes; remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. Pour the cooled marinade through a strainer into the plastic bag with the chilies. Seal and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Chilies can be refrigerated at this point for up to one week before proceeding with recipe.

When ready to serve, place the drained chilies in a baking dish. Stuff each chili with one eighth of the cream cheese filling, spoon on a couple tablespoons of salsa, then sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the Monterey jack cheese. Broil until the filling is hot and bubbly and the cheese is lightly golden; serve. Makes 8 servings.

Cream cheese filling: Cream together 8 ounces of softened cream cheese and 1 uncooked egg yolk. Stir in about 1/2 cup of chopped green onions and 1/2 cup of shredded Monterey jack cheese.

Risotto with a melange of peppers

1 cup arborio rice (or another short- or medium-grained rice, such as California Pearl rice)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 cups well-seasoned chicken broth

2 cups roasted, peeled and seeded red, yellow, and green peppers, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch lengths (see note below)

2 tablespoons finely minced fresh basil

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a heavy bottomed pan that holds at least 2 quarts, saute the rice and garlic gently over medium heat in the butter and oil until the grains become translucent. Add the wine and continue cooking until it begins to cause the rice to swell.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth in a pot and keep warm as you proceed with the recipe.

After the wine has been absorbed and the rice is beginning to swell, ladle in about 1/2 cup of the warm broth. Continue cooking, adding about 1/2 cup of the broth at a time, and stirring at least every minute or so. As the hot broth is absorbed, add another 1/2 cup or so, continuing to stir. After about 12 minutes into the process, add the peppers and basil.

When the grains of rice are cooked (you’ll have to be taste testing them as you go along), make sure that there is still enough liquid left in the rice for it to have a creamy texture (it’s the starch in and on the rice that thickens it). Just before serving, stir in the grated cheese, then adjust seasonings, adding salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Pass more grated Parmesan at the table. Makes about 6 cups of risotto, or eight generous servings.

To peel peppers: For 2 cups of roasted pepper slices, you will need at least 1 large pepper of each color. Make several slits in each pepper to avoid bursting. Arrange them on a baking sheet and broil on all sides until thoroughly blistered, but not burned. Place them in a plastic bag for about 10 minutes; the skins will be loosened by the steam, and will peel away easily.

Mashed potatoes with two chilies, roasted garlic and onions

Roasted veggie melange (recipe follows)

1/2 cup (1 cube) butter

1 1/2 cups half &half

21/2 pounds russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled (russets) and quartered

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Prepare the roasted veggie melange as directed below. Remove from oven (this can be done several days ahead and brought to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe). Place the mixture (including the oil they were roasted in) in the work bowl of a food processor and process one or two times in very short bursts, just to chunk up the mixture of vegetables without pureeing them.

Place the butter and half &half in a small pot and heat over medium heat just until the butter is mostly melted. Turn down the temperature or remove the pot from the burner.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water until tender, 15 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain well, then return the potatoes to their pot. Mash thoroughly with a potato masher. Add most of the butter and half &half mixture, and stir to combine. Fold in the roasted veggie melange mixture and add more of the butter and half &half mixture as needed to create the desired texture. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Makes six to eight servings.

Roasted veggie melange

1 cup garlic cloves, peeled

1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into rings

1 red sweet bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1 Anaheim chili, seeded and sliced

1/2 of a jalapeno chili, seeded and minced

1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

Roasted veggie melange: In a large roasting pan or baking dish, arrange garlic, red pepper, Anaheim chili and half of a jalapeno chili (be careful when handling the flesh as it is irritating to the skin). Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and toss to evenly coat the vegetables. Add salt and freshly ground pepper, then roast the vegetables in a 350-degree oven until they’re soft and golden, about 35 to 45 minutes.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contract her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com.

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