January 5, 2011
My yogi is a spice sherpa. Every time he goes home to New Mexico, he returns with mouth-watering loot, including but not exclusive to members of the chile pepper family, all quite exotic to this northeastern girl.
After some blizzard-related travel drama, the sherpa returned from his latest trip bearing tiny dried pequin chiles (aka bird peppers), dried whole chiles de Arbol, and Mexican saffron, all gifts from his wonderful mom (thanks, Char!).
The pequin chiles. Teeny, no more than half an inch in length, these have a seriously potent aroma. From what I've read, they are fiery little guys (7 to 8 times hotter than a jalapeno), with a flavor described as smoky, nutty, and citrusy. One or two crushed pequins would be great in a fresh salsa, or maybe simmered into a diavolo-esque tomato sauce.
The long, slender chile de Arbol is descibed as hot (though probably not as hot as those pequins), with a smoky, tannic, and acidic flavor. My first thought is to add a few of these chiles, crushed, to a pot of three-bean chili; I'd like to make a chile-infused oil with some whole pods, too.
Mexican saffron. I'd never heard of this before - seems it is actually safflower stigma ("true" saffron is harvested from Crocus sativus), and can be used to replicate the color, though perhaps not the flavor, of true saffron. I'm planning to grind some and use it to make a pot of yellow rice - something simple so the flavor of the saffron comes through.
And, an oldie but goodie from a previous NM trip: crushed dried green chile. This was completely new to me; I'm well-acquainted with crushed red chili but had never seen crushed green. After some back-and-forth over how best to put it to use, we coated chicken breasts with a mixture of green chile flakes, cumin, salt, and pepper, baked them, and then tucked juicy slices of the spice-encrusted chicken into warm flour tortillas. Then we topped everything off with a chunky green chile sauce made from freshly roasted Anaheims and jalapenos and canned Hatch chile (I have not been able to find frozen roasted Hatch in New York yet! The yogi said the canned peppers retained the authentic Hatch flavor pretty well, though). The crushed green chile added smokiness and contrasted nicely with the fresh, clean heat of the sauce. Which reminds me, I will have to make this again soon.