Peppers of Unknown Provenance
I have so far called for dried chiles in several recipes without any further specification—a potentially dangerous practice, since chiles vary enormously in flavor and firepower. The poivres ordinaires that I use in almost everything are these fellas above. They provide a medium level of heat and a very pleasant almost sweet fruity flavor. I bought a great big sack of them a while back at a local Indian grocery store where they were identified only as “hot peppers.” The Great Chile Book, Mark Miller’s very handy guide, identifies them (or something that looks just like them) as “Chilcostles” A chile with a heat level of 5 on an 1-10 scale. He writes that they are:
Bright deep orange-red with a splotchy skin. Elongated and tapered, measuring about 3 to 5 inches long and ½ to ¾ inch across at the shoulders. Thin fleshed, with a dusty, dry medium heat and an orangey sweetness with hints of allspice and fennel.
I don’t detect any fennel, but that is pretty close.
Those are cayennes on the right and tuxtlas on the left. I took these home from a chile lecture, and innocently used them in a recipe as I would normally use the chilcostles. Yeowch! They are much, much, much hotter. Well, now I know. On Miller's scale, which I guess must be logarithmic, tuxtlas are 7's and cayennes are 8's.
I used the chilcostles to make this nut-salsa, which I plan to drizzle onto a sweet potato and coconut soup. They are plenty hot enough.
1 sweet red bell pepper
20 dried medium chiles about ½ ounce
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
30 almonds (1 ounce)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (1 ounce)
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 large garlic clove or two or three small cloves
2 teaspoons salt
Set the oven to about 400 degrees. Broil the red pepper, turning once or twice, so that the skin is charred all over. While the pepper is under the broiler, roast the chiles in the oven for five minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the seeds and tear them up. Cover them with ¾ cup boiling water and allow them to soak while you prepare the recipe. When the bell pepper is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and seeds.
In your smallest cast iron skillet toast the oregano for five seconds and set aside. In the same skillet toast the almonds for several minutes until gold and fragrant. Set the almonds aside and toast the sesame seeds, stirring constantly, for about three minutes.
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, drizzling in additional liquid as needed. Potato soup recipe to follow.
The bell pepper was not in the recipe as I had originally planned it. I wanted this to be a pantry recipe I could throw together with things that are always on hand, (like this sesame sauce, or this pistachio sauce, or this really thrilling walnut sauce, translation pending) but it just needed some sweetness. Could I have added something else? Sun-dried tomatoes perhaps? I don’t always have those around—maybe I should. Well, that will be another sauce. This is a fiery hot salsa to be used in small dabs, but something like this could go with pasta if you calmed it down a whole lot.
eta 0212: I think maybe I caught a bit of the fennel scent just now.