How Melissa’s Produce Got Chile Peppers Into My Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I recently received an email from Melissa’s Produce, proclaiming that Hatch Chile Season is upon us! I had no idea what a hatch chile was, but already I was excited to find out. Within a few days, I had a box full of hatch chiles and a cookbook sitting on my desk, along with some information about this short-lived seasonal pepper. Because I had so much fun learning about and experimenting with these versatile peppers, I want to share my hatch chile experience with you.*

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Hatch chiles are grown in New Mexico and harvested for just a few weeks each year, in late August and early September. They range from mild to hot, and they taste best roasted, with their thick skins peeled off. I learned all of this while flipping through the cookbook in my office, when my coworkers asked me why I had a box of peppers sitting on my desk. I had the samples shipped to work, and consequently I left the office that day with just half the peppers in my possession. The other half went on to other experiments in five of my coworkers’ homes. I can only imagine that by now they have been grilled, roasted, stuffed, and chopped into a variety of dishes.

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A few local Kroger grocery stores partnered with Melissa’s Produce to host hatch chile roastings over the last two weeks, and I visited one last weekend to see the pepper roasting in action. There were samples of three heat levels to help shoppers decide which peppers to buy: mild, hot, and extra hot. The hot ones were my favorite, but a lot of people preferred the extra hots. While there, I saw several people buy whole cases of peppers and then have them roasted on-site for free. I opted to roast mine myself, in two batches. The first batch of mild peppers that were delivered for free, I roasted under the broiler in my oven. The second batch of hot peppers that I purchased at Kroger (for $1.40 per pound!), I roasted on a charcoal grill.

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After roasting, it is best to peel the peppers (with gloves!) to remove the skin and seeds, slice them, and freeze them for use over the next few months. Another way to experience hatch chiles in the off-season is to stock up on the hatch chile powder now, and then toss it in soups, stews, chili, and enchiladas into the fall and winter months. I froze six peppers after roasting and peeling, and I cooked with the rest, using the Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook.

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I could not believe how many great recipes were in this book, all using hatch chiles, and I was very glad to see that most of the recipes were vegetarian. The book covers all types of dishes, including breakfast, snacks, soups, stews, sides, entrees, desserts, and even beverages! I am looking forward to trying that hatch chile margarita!

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So far I have used the hatch chiles in black bean tacos and in chocolate chip cookies. I used the mild peppers in the cookies and couldn’t even taste them. The cookie recipe is seriously good – great flavor and consistency, not too soft, not too crunchy. However, next time I think I will use the hot chiles to balance the sweetness of the cookie because I was a little bummed that the cookies did not taste as weird as they sounded. The cookbook really opened my eyes to how versatile these peppers are, and I am glad that I stocked up when I did because I am looking forward to continuing to test recipes from the book and create more of my own.

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* I did receive a free box of hatch chiles and a cookbook when I expressed interest in learning more about the chiles and testing the recipes for my blog. As always, my opinions are all my own, and I never recommend a product without testing it first.

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SOJ Chef Demo 06.16.12

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This week’s cooking demonstrations at the South of the James farmers’ market had an unplanned theme of fire and ice. It was another gorgeous day, and with the mercury gradually rising in Richmond, Chef Sam “Rude Boy” Baker showed us some ice cold summer salads along some hot and spicy entrees. Without explicitly stating the theme, the Chef finished hot dishes with cool relishes, and paired crisp, cold salads with warm, spicy accompaniments.

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The colorful fresh produce gathered from market vendors that morning was a big draw for market shoppers. A small crowd gathered at the demo tent early on, as the Chef talked about his ingredients and chopped a rainbow of peppers, onions, squash, and other seasonal ingredients. The purple peppers from Norma’s produce and the bright yellow lemon cucumbers from Victory Farms were big conversation starters at the cutting board. In an impressive feat, the Chef held the audience’s attention for about 45 minutes without ever heating a pan.

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It was evident that the Veg of the Week had to be these long awaited peppers. We have been dying to get our hands on some local peppers for the last few weeks and it was such a nice surprise to see them all come in this week in beautiful and varied shapes, sizes and colors.

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I highlighted some quick facts about peppers on the Veg of the Week board, but I wished I had more room to include all of the other things that I love about peppers. What a versatile and delicious vegetable! Did you know that the capsaicin in hot peppers does wonders for kickstarting your metabolism? How about this incredible fact: according to whfoods.com, one cup of bell peppers contains almost 200% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C!

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The Chef started with fresh salmon from Barham Seafood and an array of vegetables, including green beans, bell peppers, white onion, golden zucchini, eggplant, and jalapeno. While he prepared the ingredients, market goers enjoyed a cool cucumber salad that featured green cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, purple bell pepper, white onion, pickled okra, cilantro, basil, salt and pepper, dressed in the brine from the Empress Farms pickled okra.

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As market shoppers cooled off, the kitchen heated up. Several onlookers stuck around for the Chef’s Thai style noodle dish with salmon, basil, and fresh market veggies. He showed the crowd how to improvise with what they had. Lacking several key ingredients for Thai cooking, the Chef made do with taglierini from Cavanna Pasta instead of rice noodles, sweet basil instead of Thai basil, and fresh jalapeno instead of Thai chilies. And the dish was completely delicious. The message is that while you may slightly compromise authenticity, you do not have to sacrifice flavor while working with just what is available locally.

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The salmon’s next starring role was over organic mixed salad greens. The Chef prepared herb crusted salmon (herbs de Provence to be exact) and showed interested market goers how to remove the pan from the heat when the salmon was just underdone. The fish continued to cook in the hot pan so that it was perfectly cooked by the time of plating.

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The warm salmon over the cold, crisp greens was well received by the crowd and the vendors who generously donated the ingredients for the presentation.

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The icy component of this salmon dish was a relish made with Korean melon, cucumber, peppers and fresh herbs. The Korean melon from Amy’s Garden was cool and sweet, and it was just what the later market group needed as the temperature rose. Of the two melons used, one was ripe and sweet, and the other was slightly underripe and a bit tangy. This relish was great on its own and people loved it on the salmon. I bet it would be great on tacos too.

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Finally, the Chef demonstrated the difference between cold cabbage and wilted cabbage by creating a raw, cold slaw and then sauteeing half of it in some hot oil. The “market slaw” contained cabbage and fennel from Tomten Farm, bell pepper, jalapeno, Korean melon, golden zucchini, white onion, flat leaf parsley, and the juice from some pickled okra. When asked about the pickled okra brine as dressing, the Chef explained, “it’s all in there – you’ve got your vinegar, your spices, all your flavor – you don’t need anything else.”

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The flavor differences between the cold slaw and the hot were incredible. I couldn’t believe I was eating the same ingredients, with the only difference being heat and a little oil. Chef Sam Baker asked market goers which they preferred and no one could commit. We heard the same thing over and over, “they’re both just so different… and so good.”

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I preferred the hot, pictured below. I thought the heat brought out the flavors a bit more.

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But then again, I wasn’t standing in the hot sun. If I had been at a backyard barbecue in the peak of Richmond summer, I might have gone for cold. I suppose that’s why it’s important to have options. And that’s probably why the best dishes have a little of both.

Thanks to Amy’s Garden, Barham Seafood, Cavanna Pasta, Empress Farm, Norma’s Produce, Tomten Farm, Victory Farms, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.

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Have a question for Chef Sam Baker? Send me an email at vegologyblog [at] gmail [dot] com or put it in the comments. We’ll get you an answer AND your question may be included in an upcoming Vegology Ask the Chef post!

How to Fire Roast on a Gas Stove

Guess what? Tacos are better with fire roasted poblanos.

And they’re even better when you’ve roasted the peppers yourself! DIY fire roasting can be achieved with a broiler or a gas stove. I recently learned how to do this over a gas stove, and it is really easy and fun. Maybe it is my lifetime love of science and playing with Bunsen burners, or maybe it is my fascination with new cooking techniques, but I’ve got a fever. And the only prescription is more fire roasting.

First, a disclaimer, which has nothing to do with fire safety. It’s my stove. I rent an apartment in a really old building (89 years old to be exact) and the kitchen has really old appliances. My stove is ugly, with indelible burn marks everywhere. No amount of Method cleaner, degreasing stovetop cleaner, or Bar Keeper’s Friend can clean this baby up. So we deal with it, and now you will too. Because here it is in all its glory.

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The first step to fire roasting your peppers is slicing them in half, deseeding them, and placing them directly on the burner of your gas stove. Turn the heat up to high and hold the pepper with fire-proof tongs. Or non-fire-proof tongs (but be careful). Just make sure your tongs can withstand the heat and they won’t melt everywhere. Grilling tools are ideal.

The skin will start to get brown and, in some spots, black and bubbly. Turn the pepper periodically so that it gets charred evenly over the flame, for about 8 minutes. When the skin is brown and blistering all over (yum!) remove the pepper from the flame and repeat the process for all remaining peppers. If you get really good at this, you can have multiple burners going at once.

Next, place your peppers in a large plastic bag with a zipper seal.

This will steam the hot peppers and make it easier to remove the skin. After 5 minutes, remove them from the bag and the skin should peel right off. From here you can chop, slice, dice or stuff them for your favorite recipe.

One option is to keep the burners fired up to warm some tortillas. Corn tortillas are fantastic when heated over an open flame.

It takes just a minute or two per side to get fresh corn tortillas warm and slightly charred. I’m telling you, now that I know how to do it I dream about what I can fire roast next! This is how I made the roasted poblano and spicy black bean tacos for the vegetarian beer dinner that I created earlier this month.

1. Poblanos: First, fire roast your poblano peppers using the method described above, and slice the peppers into strips. See all the little charred bits? Delicioso.

2. Black Beans, Chili powder, Cumin: Next, add 1 Tbsp oil to a saucepan over low-medium heat and add black beans (canned or dry and soaked). Stir for two minutes, then add chili powder and cumin to the pot. The amount depends on your personal preference. Cook for about 5 minutes just until the beans start to get pasty and then take them off the heat.

3. Sour cream, Lime, Cilantro: Then add 1 Tbsp lime juice and a palmful of chopped fresh cilantro to 1/2 cup of sour cream. Stir to combine.

4. Tortillas: Warm some corn tortillas over the flame on a gas stove, or in the microwave between 2 damp paper towels for 30 seconds, or wrapped in foil in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.

5. Additional Toppings: I shredded some cheddar cheese and pulled the Chipotle Tabasco out of the refrigerator. Other toppings ideas include: steamed corn, pico de gallo, roasted diced potatoes, or sriracha sauce.

6. Assembly: Fill the warm corn tortillas with beans, peppers, and additional toppings, and top with a dollop of the cilantro lime sour cream, for a super roasted Mexico-inspired dinner.

Once you try this technique, you might get hooked. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.