A Dash of PEPPER

What do chili peppers and zucchini have in common? Both produce a ton of ripe produce, and all at the same time! With zucchini, as we discussed last week, you need to be creative, using it as many different ways as possible. (I hope one of you shoemakers has tried to make my fritter recipe.)

Of course, just like your ex-girlfriend, eventually you’ll get sick of the taste, smell, sight, color, and feel of zucchini. With chili peppers, there’s a better alternative: Do like the Mexicans have been doing for centuries — dry them.

In Mexico, as well as in the American Southwest, drying is easily accomplished by taking advantage of the climate — it’s called a desert for a reason! But in Northeast Florida, the air is anything but dry. Peppers tend to rot or mold right on the vine; if you harvest them all at once, they mold if not refrigerated and still they’ll eventually rot.

So how do you preserve these little beauties? Option one: Pack them in your favorite suitcase and fly to Arizona to sun-dry them. Option two: Buy a food dehydrator like the ones on late-night infomercials. Is Ron Popeil is still doing those? (Asking for a friend.)

Option three? Get clever with one of my favorite Cheffed Up methods: Use your car’s dashboard. You’ve noticed the dash gets hotter than the hinges of hell in the summer? It’s like driving around a kiln! Ever notice how hot and dry it is inside a parked car after a few hours in the sun? Like a freakin’ desert!

Last summer, I discovered the dashboard was the perfect environment for drying chili peppers. I picked a couple of New Mexican peppers from my cooking school garden one evening, put them in the car to take home for dinner and promptly forgot all about them.

About a week later, I found the peppers. Lo and behold, they were perfectly dehydrated. Voila! Another Cheffed Up technique was invented! Spread out the chili peppers on the dashboard and park the car in the hot sun — it efficiently (and at no cost to you!) dries them out, courtesy of Florida’s humid summer. Give this a try. Your wife and kids might complain, because it’s weird and the car smells like peppers, and they’ll probably protest having to pick up the ones that slide around and fall off the dashboard, but, hey, no sacrifice, no reward.

Use your dried chilis in this awesome salsa recipe.

Chef Bill’s Fire-Roasted Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 4 Roma tomatoes, cored and halved
  • 1/4 red onion, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 jalapeno, stemmed, halved and seeded
  • 3 dried New Mexican or other medium-hot dried red chilis
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Rub the tomatoes, onions and jalapenos with oil, and place on a sheet pan.
  2. Char under the broiler, until just blackened.
  3. Bring dried chilies and 5 oz. of water to a simmer, simmering until the chilies begin to soften.
  4. Remove the stems and seeds from the chilies, tear into pieces and place in a food processor, process briefly.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to a chunky consistency. DO NOT PURÉE.
  6. Adjust seasoning to taste.

 

Until we cook again,

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Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at [email protected], for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!

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