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Friday, November 22, 2019

Spice it Up for the Holidaze!

                            Poblanos when stuffed with cheese morph into chile rellenos 

With the holidays descending, many are looking for special items to prepare for pot-luck dinners, or for evenings at home with visiting guests.  I like to spice things up by serving peppers.  Not all peppers, however, are hot.  In fact, the three peppers below offer very little in terms of heat, but are chocked full of flavor and color for the holidays. 


These large, bright green shiny peppers are best known for their use in chile rellenos.  While poblanos are the perfect vehicle for ooey-goey melting cheese, they can also can be stuffed with anything from meat to rice, veggies or poultry (relleno actually means “stuffed.”)   Topped with a red tomato sauce, chile rellenos make the perfect colorful holiday dish.   Poblanos are used as well in traditional Mexican dishes such as chile verde, a luscious pork stew.

                                        Anchos are simply mature, dried poblanos

Poblanos used in chile rellenos are young fresh chiles.  At maturity, poblanos turns dark reddish brown.  These fully mature poblanos are called ancho chiles.  Anchos have a raisin-like sweetness and are often dried to be reconstituted later in a sauce for items such as enchiladas.  Dried anchos are also a predominant ingredient in many classic chili recipes---and chili is perfect for any cold holiday night in which you're serving a crowd.


                       Super mild piquillos provide the perfect holiday backdrop for crab

I first learned of piquillo peppers twenty years ago when visiting Spain’s Rioja wine district during the autumn.   All of the elderly women in the wine villages were sitting outside in front of their homes cleaning piquillo peppers that had been first roasted over open air wood fires.  Every autumn menu in the Rioja features piquillos.  Most common is a simple preparation of these exquisite roasted peppers sliced, and served with olive oil and garlic.  The fancier the restaurant, the fancier the picquillo dish.  Some upscale restaurants stuff them with crab or wild mushrooms.   Michelin star establishment can even serve them topped with truffles.

                                   Fresh herbs & goat cheese scream holidaze

I particularly love piquillos for the holidays because of their brilliant red color.  While the US is not growing many, the peppers are becoming increasingly popular on upscale restaurant menus.   Roasted Spanish piquillos can be easily procured online, and increasingly are being featured in fancy grocery markets.  They come either packed in olive oil or simply water-packed.  I buy them by the case.  My favorite preparation is stuffed with crab for Christmas, but a goat cheese and wild mushroom stuffing topped with truffle oil is also a crowd-pleaser all year long.

                                          Only 1 in every 10 shishitos can be spicy

Shishito peppers are becoming a main-stay appetizer on many up-market restaurant menus in California.   Harvested while tiny and emerald green, these mild peppers are just the right size for a holiday nibble.   I love them prepared simply, sautéed quickly in some extra virgin olive oil with garlic, and topped with fleur de sel.  

Have a spicy holidaze season!

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