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  • Chili Primer

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  • Anaheim — closely related to, and interchangeable with, New Mexico chilies.
    • Ancho — the dried form of poblano; widely used in Mexico; brick-red to dark mahogany in color, wrinkled, with broad shoulders and sweet, fruity flavors.
    • Bell peppers — also referred to as sweet peppers, bell peppers come in a variety of colors: red, yellow, green, purple and orange. The mildest type of chili. Roasting and peeling gets rid of tough outer skin and improves the flavor.
    • Cayenne — bright-red, thin-fleshed, fiercely hot, sweet, intense, similar in flavor to red Thai chilies and related to the tabasco chili. When dried, it is used as cayenne powder.
    • Chili caribe — also known as red-pepper flakes. The crushed, flaky (not ground) version of the dried New Mexico red chili, California chili or other similar varieties. These are the flakes used as pizza topping in Italian restaurants.
    • Chili pasado — the name given to ripe, fresh, red New Mexico or Anaheim chilies that have been fire-roasted, peeled and dried, which concentrates natural flavors and heat of the chilies, making them sweeter and hotter than regular, dried, red New Mexico chilies strung on "ristras" or twine.
    • Chipotle — brown and wrinkled form of the fresh, ripe jalapeno that has been smoked slowly over the dried foliage of the chili plant. Also available canned in adobo sauce, prepared by stewing the dried and smoked chilies with onions, tomatoes, vinegar and spices.
    • Habanero — green, yellow or orange, lantern-shaped (like a small bell pepper) and used extensively in the Yucatan. The hottest of all chilies but has a wonderful flavor.
    • Jalapeno — best-known and most widely eaten hot chili in this country, either fresh, roasted or pickled. Known as chipotles when dried and smoked.
    • New Mexico green chili (fresh) — light to medium green, varies in strength from medium to very hot. The basic chili in New Mexican cuisine.
    • New Mexico green chili (dried) — very dark, olive-green, it is rarer in its dried form than the New Mexico red. Try it ground as a seasoning on steaks, chicken or pork instead of black pepper.
    • New Mexico red chili (fresh) — ripe version of New Mexico green; dark, deep, intense red color; fleshy, hot and sweet. Like the green chilies, can be roasted for sauces, soups and chutneys.
    • New Mexico red chili (dried) — dark brick-red, smooth, tapered and truly a king of dried chilies with a variety of tones, ranging from toasty, dried corn and berry, to rich tomato; sometimes there are hints of apple and orange. Should be used on its own with minimal spices or herbs.
    • Poblano — the fresh, green form of ancho; dark-green, tapers down from the shoulders to a point; medium to hot in strength. Essential for chilies rellenos or other methods of stuffing because they have thick flesh.
    • Serrano — bright green or red, cylindrical with a rounded end; clean, biting heat and a pleasantly high acidity; wonderful in fresh salsas.
    Handling fresh chilies
    There are a few precautions to consider. The best way to avoid discomfort is by not coming in contact with the capsaicinoids: those little pain-seeking, chemical missiles lurking within chilies' seeds and veins. They're completely odorless and colorless. But when they land on your skin, in your eyes or up your sinuses, you know they're there. Some people wear rubber gloves, but I find this to be an overly cautious and cumbersome method of protection. Just remember to avoid touching your face or mouth once you've chopped into a fresh chili.
    Secondly, during chopping, look out for fumes and squirting juices. If you're using a food processor, don't put your face near the feeder tube while the blades are rotating, or you'll get a blast of fiery wind.
    To roast and peel fresh chilies, cut one lengthwise slit in each chili (to prevent bursting), then roast either under the oven heating element, over a gas burner or on a grill, turning as each side blisters. Place roasted chilies in a plastic bag and store in freezer compartment for 10 minutes so the steam can loosen the skins; remove from freezer and peel.
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