The lengthening afternoon shadows, warm days and cool evenings mean only one thing to me. Fall is fast approaching. Here on the left coast this also means that we get 2 more months of summer, and these last two months are usually a glorious end to my favorite season.
The summer harvest of fruits and vegetables are now the stars of the quincho and I try and exploit these as much as possible. Some of my favorites are wood fire roasted chiles that I can vacuum pack and use through out the winter in salsas and sauces, so last weekend I built a nice big fire and roasted red bells, poblanos, jalapeno’s and a few eggplants. I’m amazed at the number of people that have never enjoyed the taste of a smoke roasted pepper. Here’s the way I do it, with a little background.
Red Bells (Capsicum annuum)
Probably the most well known of the pepper tribe for roasting, these sweet and mild peppers make fabulous, soups, dips, sauces and garnishes. A lots of folks roast them in the oven under the broiler, but the wood grill adds a smoky depth and complexity to them. Red Bell Peppers and the green ones that you see in the store are actually the same thing, the red ones have been left on the plant to ripen longer. They have an increased vitamin C content and they are sweeter. Find large deep red peppers with fresh green stems. Wash them off in clean running water and dry with paper towels. To roast peppers, build a hot fire on a charcoal grill. By the way, you can always roast peppers while waiting for the coals to cool down enough to grill your supper. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on the peppers and rub them with your hands to evenly coat them. The oil helps the skin to blister. Place the peppers over the hot fire and continue to turn them until they are well blistered and charred all over. Place these in a paper bag (like a grocery bag) and close the bag. Let them sit for about 15 minutes. Dump them out on a cutting board, and using your fingers and a paring knife scrape the burnt skin off the peppers. It’s quite ok (actually preferable) if you have some nice charred spots on the pepper flesh under the skin. Slice the pepper open on one side and remove the membranes and seeds. You can slice the skinned pepper into strips and freeze it for later use, or use it right away.
One of my favorite ways to use my smoke roasted bells are in a middle Eastern dip of Arabic origin called “Muhammara”. Aleppo lays claim to the dish, but it’s pretty ubiquitous in the middle east. It’s great with pita chips. Here’s my tried and true recipe.
Mahammara (Middle Eastern Bell Pepper Dip)
- 1 1/2 Cups Chopped Walnuts (roast these in a dry saute pan first until fragrant for more intense flavor)
- 1/2 Cup Bread Crumbs
- 1/4 Cup Tomato Puree
- 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
- 2 Fire Roasted Bell Peppers
- 2 tbs Unsweetened Pomegranate Molasses
- 1 tbs Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 tsp Ground Cumin
- 1/2 tsp Sugar
- 1/2 tsp Ground Allspice
- Pinch Salt
- Small Bunch on Flat Leaf Parsley, Minced (for garnish)
Combine all of the elements in a food processor and puree until smooth. Spoon into a small dip bowl and drizzle a little olive oil over the top, garnish with the parsley and serve with pita chips.
Jalapenos (Capsicum annuum ‘Jalapeño’)
The Jalapeno is a firey, fat little green pepper that adds heat and flavor to sauces, stews, beans and just about anything. While they aren’t the hottest pepper, they do pack a wallop. A Jalapeno runs at around 2,500–10,000 scoville units – a measure of heat in a pepper. By comparison, the feisty habanero tips the scales at 100,000 – 350,000 units. I roast these over a wood fire the same way I do the red bells. I coat them with a little oil and char the outsides. These can be skinned the same way as the bells, and the seeds and membranes can be removed to manage the heat. Usually I roast them, but I don’t peel them. I’ll vacuum pack them and freeze them for use in ranch beans later.
They say if it tastes good fried, it’ll taste even better smoked or grilled. That goes double for Jalapeno Poppers. This requires a gadget called a chile grill (http://toolwizard.com/store/index.cfm/product/75_49/chile-grill—std-shape-12–stainless-steel.cfm), you can get these almost anywhere. Here’s how I make them.
Smoked Jalapeno Poppers
- 1 Dozen Jalapenos
- 1 Small tub of cream cheese
- 1 tbs Fresh Basil, minced
- 2 Garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbs chopped Sundried Tomatoes in oil
- 6 strips hardwood smoked bacon (thin cut)
In a small bowl, completely mix the cream cheese with the Basil, Tomatoes and Garlic. Spoon the mixture into a ziplock bag. Cut the tops off the Jalapenos (use gloves if you are a sissy, or just don’t touch any other part of your anatomy that you don’t want burned). Using a potato peeler (the cheap kind) scrape out all the seeds and membranes. Cut off the corner of the ziplock bag and squeeze the mixture into the jalapenos. wipe them clean of any excess. Cut the bacon slices in half crosswise. Wrap a slice of bacon around each Jalapeno. The thin bacon will stick to itself. Light a fire in your smoker at around 275 degrees with your favorite wood for smoke. Smoke the poppers for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Serve hot. These are winners every time. Experiment with the fillings, I find that there are infinite combinations of yummy things to stick in these peppers.
Poblanos (Capsicum annuum longum)
If you’ve had Chiles Rellenos, that stuffed, battered and fried chile wonder from Mexico, then you’ve had a Poblano Chile. In California they are mistakenly called Pasillas (which are actually a different chile altogether). When dried, they are called Ancho chiles. At 100 – 1500 Scoville units, they aren’t particularly hot. They are steamed whole or diced in cans under the brand “Ortega” – which are pretty common in the grocery store around these parts. I fire roast these just like the red bell peppers, remove the skins and cut off the tops. I carefully scrape out the membrane and seeds leaving the pepper intact.
These get vacuum packed and frozen until I decide to pull these out for the best Chiles Rellenos you’ve had. They are simple to make – and you can put one on top of a burger for an out of this world burger experience.
- 4 Fire Roasted Poblano Chiles
- 3 cups grated Monterrey Jack Cheese
- 4 Eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 1 Cup vegetable oil
- Las Palmas mild enchilada sauce or your favorite salsa
Cut a slit lengthwise along the pepper taking care to not tear it all the way through. Stuff each pepper with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Place the egg yolks in a small clean bowl with a good healthy pinch of kosher salt. Beat the yolks until smooth and frothy (about 2 minutes) and set aside. In another larger bowl containing the whites and a good healthy pinch of kosher salt, use a mixer to whip them into stiff peaks. Gently fold in the beaten yolks with a rubber spatula and mix. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium high heat until hot. Dump 1/2 cup of the batter into the pan and place a stuffed chile on it seam side down, gently pressing it into the batter. Dump another 1/2 cup of batter on top of the chile and use a spatula to evenly coat it with the batter. Leave it alone for about 3 minutes (or until the bottom is a golden brown) and carefully flip it to brown the other side. remove it from the pan to drain on a paper towel and repeat with remaining chiles. Serve immediately with the salsa or enchilada sauce.
I hope this inspires you to get out and roast some of summers best chiles. They store well and you can keep a little of the summer sun in the freezer to pull out on a cold winter afternoon. But now, it’s time for a nap in the fading summer sun.