Last summer this time of year, the Cute Gardener and I enjoyed a spree through Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our first day, after a strenuous hike at Tent Rocks, we explored the town hungry to find the source of a remarkably green and spicy aroma permeating every invisible inch of the atmosphere. We discovered various grocery store parking lots equipped with massive black, rolling and roasting machines into which we watched enormous amounts of bright, hatch chiles being fed. We bought a few bags of the charred, smoky chiles for a few bucks apiece and enjoyed our late nights in the hotel haphazardly deseeding and deveining the chiles, smashing them between thick flour tortillas and drizzling the whole lot with honey acquired earlier in Santa Fe. We also sought out as many green chile food items we could muster over the course of the next few days including a bowl of verde, soupy chili in the middle of a pharmacy run by female waitresses straight out of the 1960s.
New Mexico, we learned, is very proud of “their” hatch chile pepper. It makes sense that the pepper, a member of the genus Capsicum (think nature’s niacin), and part of the nightshade family of flowering plants related to the tomato and potato, would be a staple in southwestern fare. But we also surmised that it would be an easy ingredient to integrate into the Mexican and American items that we were more accustomed to at home as well.
A year later, and finally recovering from the copious amounts of mouth-related heat from last summer, it is hatch chile season again. This time the CG planned a whole morning around the torrid little suckers, driving us to a grocery store thirty miles away for the opportunity to purchase a ten pound box, freshly roasted for only $16. I then spent the good part of a Saturday methodically slicing, cleaning and flattening half of the box and freezing the other. We were left with a heavy tub of peppers and the challenge of using our imagination to make it go away over the course of the next week. This is how we did it.
The simple quesadilla was an obvious starter dish – perfect for the morning after a wine-soaked dinner party for lazy Sunday on the couch. A few hatch chile strips and white jack cheese melted together between two tortillas were dressed up with dollops of sour cream and ribbons of sage honey.
The CG then grilled up burgers that left my mouth smarting hungrily for days. The meat was perfectly rare and topped with hatch chiles, marinated tomatoes from the garden, slices of Monterey jack and sheep’s milk cheese, bits of bacon, home grown arugula, and a potato bun.
I made an uber-fresh salsa to enjoy with corn chips – a take on salsa verde but minus the cilantro therefore turning it into a salsa rose. It was a simple puree of hatch chiles, momotaro and grapette tomatoes, garlic cloves and white onions.
The CG made one of his famous pressure-cooked, one pot chicken dinners by throwing in leftover bits of carrots and celery and other vegetables laying around the kitchen and adding the hatch chiles for a final dose of flavor at the end. The chicken fell apart in a savory, perfectly spiked pile atop a steaming heap of white rice. I served some fried chickpea and butternut fritters on the side with sage cream.
Our two-week fling with hatch chiles was a very heated affair and we were left panting and flushed at the end. Now, that my entire body has been cleansed of toxins and burned to the core, I will take a few months break before deciding how to tackle the remaining five pounds of chiles dominating the freezer.