Chili Peppers: Some Like It Hot!
Chili Peppers Can Add Flavor, Not Just Heat!
Can you picture Mexican cuisine without chilies? This essential ingredient is used in so many of the regional flavors of Mexico.
It would be almost impossible to divide Mexican cuisine from chili peppers, but not all peppers are hot. They are found in many grocery stores offering a variety of chilies to choose from. Some are mild, like those chopped green chilies found in small cans. The key is to choose the greatest balance of flavors for your dish.
Capsaicin Gives Chili Peppers Their Fire!
The active component in chilies is capsaicin, which may actually have anti-inflammatory properties. Capsaicin is the ingredient that gives a chili its heat. More capsaicin means a hotter chili!
The skin of a chili pepper doesn't contain capsaicin, making it safe to handle.
Guide To Knowing Your Chili Peppers
Common types of chilies include:
- Tabasco - Red, orange or green, this chili has intense heat. Fresh tobacco peppers are not readily available but there are hundreds of makers of Tabasco sauce, which you'll find in any supermarket.
- Serrano - One of the hottest chilies used in Mexican cuisine, they're about 2 inches long and ¼ to ½ inch wide. Colors vary from green to a deep red when ripe. They are nice to use for adding kick to hearty dishes.
- Poblano - Dark green and triangular chilies, about 4 inches long and somewhat hotter than Anaheim chilies.
- Pasilla - Deep brown in color when fresh, these peppers vary from mild to hot, and are sorted according to heat. They are offered in Mexican specialty stores.
- Jalapeno - Small peppers, about 2-3 inches long and very hot. They are nice to use combined with other peppers to add heat and flavor to dishes.
- Habanero - Beware of the Habanero as they are one of the hottest chilies available. Closely related to Scotch Bonnets, these come in a range of colors and are best used in a salsa, especially one made with fruit.
- Chipotle - Smoked and dried jalapeno peppers that are fiery and smoky in flavor. They are great for adding special flavor to sauces and stews.
- Cayenne - Red or green and about 5 inches long, this chili has a tart, acidic flavor. It's most commonly used in powdered form in chili sauces.
- Ancho - Dried poblano peppers often used in Mexican sauces, known as molés. Often, they are ground for use in chili powder.
- Anaheim - Green, shiny and about 6 inches long, these are one of the mildest chilies. They are somewhat sweet with just a touch of heat.
Protect Your Skin & Eyes When Preparing Chili Peppers
When chopping hot chilies to cook with, it is important to use caution. If you have sensitive skin, wear rubber gloves. Place the pepper on your cutting board and slice lengthwise, being careful to keep it at as far from your face as possible. Slice off the stem end. With a spoon, scrape the seeds from the inside of the chili and throw away. Then, chop or slice the chili however you desire. Never touch your eyes or face while chopping chili peppers! To keep the fumes from irritating your eyes, cover until ready for use. You can chop extra chilies and place them in the freezer in Ziploc bags to use at a later date.