Chile or chili, it’s still green

May 5 – Cinco de Mayo – is the date of this issue of the San Juan Record, so it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about chile peppers. Is it Chile or Chili?

If it is the country in South America, it is Chile. If it is the singer from the group TLC, it is Chilli, and when it is very cold outside, well that is chilly.

However, when it is the vegetable, it is the Green Chile Pepper, but when exactly does it become Chili?

Then there is the plural, is it Chiles or Chilies? It is confusing as so many sources have so many definitions and so many recipes use the spellings so interchangeably.

Let’s just get to the story of the Chile Pepper itself. The most popular one in the Southwest is the New Mexico Green Chile Pepper, primarily grown in Hatch, NM.

Oh yes, there are numerous types of chile peppers within the United States and worldwide, but I am just going to focus on this one type for now.

Hatch chiles (ies) are available in a canned version, all roasted, seeded and peeled for you, which is advantageous if you cannot find fresh chiles in your area.

This is what I had to do when I lived in Lancaster, PA. While convenient, there was still that metallic taste from the aluminum cans to contend with. Nope, there is no better alternative to fresh chiles than fresh chiles.

Roasting vegetables such as the chile pepper is actually not that difficult. No, you do not need that large barrel type roaster you may have seen on a cooking show or outside of Walmart in Cortez, CO.

Your own barbeque grill, stovetop burner (gas only), or oven will do will do that job and and do it very well. Do make sure to grease up the rack on your grill or in your oven; otherwise the chiles will stick and tear apart when being removed.

Remember, you can do the roasting technique, not just for chile peppers, but those large bell peppers too. When jalapeños are roasted, they become known as chipotle, so be careful if you are one of those people who says, “I hate jalapeños, but love chipotles.” They’re the same.

Anyway, once the peppers are blackened, place them in a brown paper bag, seal it and let the steam from the peppers make your work easier.

Once the peppers are warm to the touch, the skins will easily peel off; give the stems a twist and pull the seed pods right out. Give them a rinse, let them dry, and they can be frozen for up to six months or used immediately.

Two items you can make with your roasted peppers are Green Chile Sauce and Salsa Verde. With Salsa Verde, it is made using tomatillo instead of actual green tomatoes. The tomatillo, also known as tomato verde (green tomato) or Mexican husk cherry, is related to the gooseberry and is in the nightshade family.

Basic Green Chile Sauce

1 small onion, diced; 1 Tbsp. minced garlic; 2 Tbsp. canola oil; 6 large green chile peppers, roasted, seeded, peeled and chopped; 1 tsp. cumin; 2 cups water; Salt

In a large sauce pan, heat the oil on medium-high heat. Sauté onion until softened; the garlic should be added when you see the onion just beginning to soften.

Reduce heat to low and add the peppers, cumin, and water. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Purée to desired consistency using a blender or immersion blender; add salt to taste. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Basic Salsa Verde

6 tomatillos, removed from husks and washed; Water; 1/4 chopped onion; 1 clove garlic; 3 large green chile peppers, roasted, seeded, peeled and chopped; Salt

Place tomatillos and water into a large saucepan on medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes.

Quarter the tomatillos. Add tomatillos, onion, garlic, and peppers to a blender. Set on puree and slowly add 1/4 cup water until ingredients achieve a smooth texture. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

You now have two sauces, but what to do with them? While you can enjoy them as dips for a party, they can be used in such Mexican recipes as enchiladas or burritos, used as toppings for a breakfast skillet; or even in a main dish.

Here is a simple recipe you can make quickly at home. Rice, grilled vegetables, or a salad can be served as the side dish.

Green Chile Chicken

2 Tbsp. olive oil; 8 skinless chicken tenderloins; 1 tsp. Mexican oregano; 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper; 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt; 2 Tbsp. white wine (NOT cooking wine, real wine!); 1 cup green chile sauce, warmed; 8 tsp. diced red tomatoes

In a large skillet on medium-high heat, heat the oil and place the chicken skin side up. Evenly sprinkle with oregano, black pepper, and salt. Brown chicken for three minutes.

Turn the tenderloins over, remove the skillet from the heat, and add the white wine. This will keep the wine from accidentally catching on fire. Remember, you are not making a flambé, just searing the chicken. Set back on heat and cook three minutes before removing from skillet.

Two tenderloins per serving, with a tablespoon of sauce over each plus a teaspoon of diced red tomatoes. You will get the heat temperature from the seared chicken and warmed sauce. The spicy heat of the green chiles grabs you, and the cool, sweetness of the tomatoes gives you a full flavor taste explosion in your mouth.

Mexican-style rice, grilled vegetables, or even a simple salad as a side makes this a complete meal – and there is the key word: simple.

Enjoy and Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

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