Tag Archives: chiles

Where is the Chili Pepper Capital of the World?

In a nod to Mexican Independence Day today, and in appreciation for all that Mexico has given us, me thinks the answer to this question is MEXICO. However, New Mexico thinks otherwise. It’s newest license plate proclaims this as truth and features big red and green chili peppers next to the identity number of the plate and the slogan: New Mexico, Chili Capital of the World. It’s true, New Mexico was once a part of Mexico and before that New Spain. Spanish and Mexican roots run deep here. So we don’t get confused, the license plate here also says, New Mexico, USA.

The origin of the chili pepper is clear. The indigenous peoples of Mexico had fully domesticated chili peppers far earlier than 1492 and the arrival of Columbus in the Americas. Archaeologists date the origin of chilis back to 5000 BC in the country’s Tehuacán Valley.  The word “chili” can be credited to Nahuatl, an Aztec language from which many modern terms are derived, such as chocolatl and tomatl. The history of chili is a fascinating read.

There are over 60 types of chilis that claim Mexican origins. These include jalapeño, habanero, poblano, Anaheim, and more. These are the names for fresh chilis. Once they are dried, they take on a different identity because the flavor changes. For example, the chilaca chili, rarely used in its fresh form, becomes chili pasilla when dried, a staple of Oaxaca mole sauce. For more about biodiversity and origins, click here. For a varietal explanation, click here and here.

Here in New Mexico, chili pepper history comes much later. By all accounts, seeds were introduced by the Spanish in the late 1500’s to many of the pueblos and by the early 1600’s, became an important cultivar to use in southwest cuisine. Chili, as in the stew that combines spicy chili pepper flavor, meat, onions and tomatoes, traces its origins to Texas and rapidly spread throughout the region. Adaptations in the Midwest added beans and fat. Have you ever been to a chili cook-off?

Now is the season for roasting Hatch Chili in New Mexico.

The Hatch Chili is uniquely New Mexican, first cross-bred in Northern New Mexico in the early 1900’s by a horticulturalist wanting a milder version of jalapeño. It is available in August and September, depending on the weather. This short window of buying and eating opportunity gives it a caché of being rare and has taken on a mystique of desirability. There is a Hatch Chili frenzy here now. In front of the Taos Albertson’s and Smith’s supermarket, on the historic plaza, in the Walmart parking lot, I see outdoor roasters fueled by propane, with serious young men loading and tending the roasting bins. Bags of fresh roasted Hatch Chilis are offered for sale inside. The aroma of smokey chili goodness fills the air, invades naval passages, causes eyes to tear if you get too close.

Does the Hatch Chili make New Mexico the Chili Capital of the World? Not likely. However, I concede, my adopted state is the Hatch Chili Capital of the World, and I salute her for that. Hatch Chili pancakes anyone?

Where to Buy Hatch Chilis fresh and frozen:

Recipe: Making Authentic Mole Rojo in Teotitlan del Valle

 

My Australian friend Tracey Ponting came back through Oaxaca this week on her way from San Cristobal de las Casas to Distrito Federal and on to England to visit her parents.  Tracey and I met on the bus to San Cris in January when we stayed at the same posada.  From there we traveled together to Palenque.  I convinced her to spend a couple of days in Teotitlan del Valle for rest and relaxation before starting the next leg of her journey.  In April she will begin a seven-week pilgrimage on the Camino Frances part of the Camino Santiago de Compostela in Spain before going back to Perth.

What better way to relax than to settle in at Las Granadas Bed and Breakfast and get instruction from some of the best cooks in the village, the magic trio of Josefina, Magdalena and Eloisa?  Tracey asked for Oaxacan Mole Rojo, which is her favorite of Oaxaca’s seven moles.  I participated with her and I’m happy to share this incredible recipe (receta) with you!

 

Josefina Ruiz Vazquez’ Family Recipe for Mole Rojo 

  • 75 grams (2.6 ounces) ancho chiles
  • 26 grams (0.91 ounces) pasilla chiles
  • 55 grams (2 ounces) guajillo chiles
  • 50 grams (1.75 ounces) sesame seeds
  • 75 grams (2.6 ounces) raisins
  • 25 grams (.88 ounces) almonds
  • 4 to 5 medium sized fresh red tomatoes
  • 150 grams (5.25 ounces) tomatillos
  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) cooking chocolate, semi-sweet (preferably Oaxacan chocolate, which includes cinnamon, almonds, sugar)
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 pieces of dried ginger
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 5 grams (0.18 ounces) cinnamon sticks
  • 1 small onion, halved
  • 20 grams (.70 ounces) garlic (or one small head)
  • 1 T. dried thyme (can use 2 T. fresh)
  • 1 T. fresh oregano
  • 2 slices toasted white or wheat bread or 1 toasted medium dinner roll
  • 1/2 C. olive oil
  • 4-6 chicken thighs and legs
 
  1.  Toast the chiles over high heat on the comal, over a gas flame or in a shallow frying pan until charred and soft.  Remove seeds and stem.  De-vein.  Take about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of the chile seeds and toast them.  Set chiles and seeds aside in a bowl.
  2. On the comal, toast together the onion, garlic (with peel), sesame seeds, raisins and almonds until browned.  Add the herbs and spices to this mix.  Stir and toast.
  3. Cook the tomatoes and tomatillos together in 1 C. water for 10 minutes.  Reserve liquid.
  4. Peel the garlic after it is toasted.
  5. Soak the chiles in the tomato water until soft.
  6. On the metate (or in a machine) combine the raisins, thyme, oregano, cloves, cinnamon, peppers, raisins.  Once the paste is fine and all the ingredients are indistinguishable, add all the roasted sesame seeds.  Continue mashing until seeds are pulverized into paste.  You are looking for the consistency of clay.  Remove paste to a small bowl.
  7. In a 6 quart pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil with 1 T. salt, 3 cloves of garlic and 1/2 onion.  Add the raw chicken parts.  Bring water to a simmer, cover and cook for 30-45 minutes until chicken is tender. (Do not use breast meat, warns Josefina. It does not have enough flavor.  You can substitute turkey, but it will take 1 to 1-1/2 hours to cook.)  When finished cooking, remove chicken and reserve stock.
  8. Add onions, chile and garlic to the metate and crush.
  9. Grind bread into a fine crumb.
  10. Put olive oil into a large sautee pan or casserole over medium heat.  Add 1/2 C. of mashed tomatoes and mole paste to oil.  Sautee the paste for 2 minutes until oil is absorbed.  Strain the chile juice into the tomatoes and add this to the cooking paste.
  11. At this point, you can keep the past for 2 months in the refrigerator, but if you add all the tomatoes as follows, you will need to use immediately.
  12. Add a third of the mashed tomatoes and 2 C. of the chicken stock to the mole paste.  Continue adding the tomatoes in thirds, stirring until liquid is reduced.
  13. Break the chocolate into pieces and add to the casserole.  Stir until dissolved. (Magdalena roasts her own cacao beans and makes her own chocolate.)
  14. Add 1/2 the breadcrumbs, stir and correct for thickness.  The mixture should be like a very thick sauce that sticks to a wooden spoon.
  15. Correct the seasonings. Taste.  You may need to add a little more salt, more chocolate or a tad of sugar according to taste.
  16. Toast 3 avocado leaves and add them to the casserole and stir.  If needed, add the remaining breadcrumbs.
  17. Serve with rice, tortillas and steamed fresh vegetables such as choyote squash, carrots, green beans, broccoli and cauliflower.
Serves 4-6.

Josefina attributes this recipe to her grandmother Rufina Gabriel and her mother Marina Vasquez Gabriel.  She knows her grandmother learned it from her mother and the mothers before her.  It is made completely by hand using the stone metate and mano de metate.  Less ambitious and weaker cooks will want to pull out a food processor or blender.  Just beware that the texture of the paste will be different, says Josefina.

 

She also notes that different families use different quantities and types of ingredients.  Some mole rojos are sweeter, some more picante, some don’t use organic vegetables.  Josefina prides herself on the face that she grows her own tomillo (thyme), oregano, tomatoes and onions.  Mole rojo is reserved for special occasions like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Fiesta de Julio Sangre de Cristo (the village saint day) since it takes about three or four hours to shop for and prepare the ingredients.

Of course, we are wearing our Zapotec aprons (mandils):  left to right, Norma, Josefina, Eloisa and Tracey.