Spice It Up with Chiles

Just think of what your life was like before you were brave enough to try yoga for the first time. You don’t know how you lived so long without it, right? Well, that’s the feeling we hope to instill when it comes to cooking with dried peppers; a daunting, spicy unknown that, with a little encouragement and direction, will absolutely change the way you cook.

We recently received a shipment of regional, organic dried peppers from Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland, Mass and boy, are they beautiful. We wanted to take a minute and introduce you to a few new favorites. These three varieties are best when ground into a powder but don’t be afraid to experiment with using them whole.

Espelette Style Peppers- a fruity and delicate pepper with a medium-low rating on the Scoville scale. The flavor is somewhat fruity and fresh, with mild hints of heat. You may notice some level of spiciness, as the peppers can range in heat, though nothing that overpowers, as well as a slight smokiness. Grind these peppers to a powder and sprinkle over roasted squash, veal stew, or eggs benedict. Delicious and special!

Calabrian Chiles – These type of peppers are a very versatile ingredient, but it can sometimes be seen as a little too hot and spicy. Of course, there are many people who consider that a bonus and, in some areas of the United States, Calabrian Chili peppers are replacing Sriracha, the famous hot sauce, as the flavor of choice. A little goes a long way so this little red chile can be used as a pizza topping, as a lunchtime boost for a sandwich and even added to salami for an authentic Italian taste.

Aleppo Style Peppers- This spice about half as hot as the crushed red chile flakes,, and easily twice as flavorful. Like salt, Aleppo-style pepper is a flavor enhancer. It marries slow-building heat with earthy, cumin-y undertones and a little hit of fruity tang, great as a flavor booster with winter preparations.

Two of my very favorite ways to use dried chilies (that isn’t pulverizing them to a powder) are also the first ways I learned how to use them! 

My first a ha moment with dried chiles was when I was shown how to make a flavorful Salsa Roja, a mild sauce ubiquitous in Mexico, made with dried Guajillo chiles. Take a dry cast iron pan, add whole peeled garlic, onion chunks and dried chiles, and roast until slightly blackened, 5 minutes (use the hood because it will get a bit smoky). Next, carefully pour water in to cover and add one or two small tomatoes, and some whole cumin and coriander seeds. Let this come to a boil and simmer 10 minutes or until everything is nice and soft. Pour hot veggie mixture and some of the liquid into a blender, add cilantro stems and salt and voila, Salsa Roja!  Use this a base for salsa, tinga, enchilada sauce, ranchero sauce, you name it. Play up variations with the addition of hotter chiles like Calabrian or chipotle, and add beer, vinegar or a pinch of sugar to the cooking liquid for a little extra flavor.

The second a ha moment, was even simpler: a chef I used to work with would make all of his sauteed green vegetables the same way: screaming hot sauce pan, tiny bit of oil, whole dried chilies and a head of garlic halved through its equator. Carefully place garlic cut side down the whole dried chilies (one or two depending on how many greens you are making) into the hot pot and let sizzle just a few seconds before adding your broccolini/green beans/kale/brussels sprouts and cover right away. While holding the lid down, shake pot vigorously once about 30 seconds in. Your greens will be nicely sear-steamed after another 60 seconds. This quick-cooking technique of the greens coupled with the smoky-spicy chili garlic flavored oil is genius and so simple to make.


Written by Leah Mojer, M&P, Beverage Manager

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