Alt-Chili

Tired of the typical Bowl of Red adrift in a sea of chili powder?

Feeling adventurous?  This tasty option will tickle your jaded palate in under an hour. We get a quick start with ground pork and build up layers of flavor and nutrition with multiple peppers—including smoky dried chipotle pepper in tangy adobo sauce.

Building chili flavors

For a satisfying twist we fill in with non-traditional pumpkin puree. The Italians have taught us that pumpkin is not just for pies, it’s a known team player with pork and in pasta dishes, too. If it was a lovely fall day we might consider making our own puree, but today we are on a roll and happy with a plain can of pumpkin pulp.

Our bean of choice is not a red or even a black bean. Instead, we are going for the durable all-American great Northern, which suits our needs nicely. This mild, digestible  white bean holds its shape well and won’t soon turn to mush.

Three-Pepper Pumpkin Chili

In 45 minutes the chili is ready to eat, but a longer simmer will develop more flavor. Made it ahead, it’s even better the next day!

 Three-Pepper Pumpkin Chili

Ingredients
1-2 tsp vegetable oil
¾ lb ground pork or turkey
1 onion, chop
2 cloves garlic, mince
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 poblano or pasilla pepper, seed, chop
1 jalapeno, seed, chop
1 smoked pepper in adobo plus 1 Tbsp or more adobo sauce
1 cup canned pumpkin pulp
1½ cups liquid: thin as needed with any combination chicken stock, water, coffee
½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, to taste
15 oz can Great Northern beans, rinse and drain

Avocado, grated cheddar or jack cheese, cilantro, corn chips or corn tortillas; salsa or hot sauce.

Instructions
1. In a large pot over medium high, heat oil and brown the pork; drain off any excess liquid.
2. Lower heat to medium, add onion and garlic; cook to soften 2-3 minutes. Add cumin and dried oregano; cook briefly to absorb flavors.
3. Add the fresh peppers, the smoked pepper and adobo sauce; cook to soften, 5-10 minutes.
4. Add the pumpkin puree, thinning as needed with liquid; season with salt and pepper and simmer on low for 10 minutes.
5. Add the white beans, simmer 15 minutes or longer; adjust seasoning.
6. Serve in bowls with chips or warmed tortillas. Top with avocado, grated cheese and cilantro. Pass favorite salsa or hot sauce. Serves 3 or more

Chile-Cheese-in-a-Hole

September will forever remind me of Hatch Pepper season in New Mexico and Texas.  Much like the nostril tingling smell of burning leaves in the fall, the air becomes heady with the nostalgic scent of roasting chile peppers.

I felt the need to honor the season by roasting my own poblano peppers―not quite the same as Hatch peppers, but good enough.  I’ve also written here about my endless tinkering with cheese stuffed peppers and my obsession with new variations on chile rellenos―something beyond egg batter dipped and fried.

Since we have a growing Latino community here, I was thrilled to find a market with a cheese counter selling bunches of long thick strands of Oaxacan quesillo.  The cheese is quite similar to Italian string cheese, which would also work using multiple strands. Cut into appropriate lengths, the widths handily fit into a roasted chile.

Today’s version is a take on the charming British Toad-in-a- Hole, or sausage encased in Yorkshire pudding.Hole chile cheese1 I’ve always had a special weakness for these babies, but balk at their soufflé-like tendency to sadly deflate into nothingness.

I remedied that situation and now have a puffed and perky pepper oozing with melting cheese. It cuts into tidy wedges; no muss, no fuss. Chile Cheese Salsa Hole

Not exactly Latino influenced, but still, it is quite tasty with fresh homemade salsa.  Of course, what isn’t more tasty with salsa?

Chile Cheese in a Hole

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 onion, peeled and sliced
6 poblano or pasillo peppers, charred, skinned, and seeded
3/4 lb. Oaxacan or string cheese

Batter
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese, divided

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Sear the chiles over a hot flame or broiler until blistered on all sides. Place in plastic bag to loosen skin.  When cool, peel the skin away.  Make a slit in the side of each and remove the stems and seeds, keeping them as whole and intact as possible.  Set aside.
  3. Slice the cheese into 6 – 2 ½” lengths and wrap the peppers around the cheese fingers.
    Rub a pie plate or other similar ovenproof dish with part of the remaining olive oil.  Add the sliced onion, drizzle with remaining oil and distribute the slices evenly in dish.  Bake in 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until they begin to take on color
  4. .Meanwhile prepare the batter:  combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl and make a well in the center.  Combine the beaten eggs and milk and pour into the flour mixture, beat until well blended.  Fold in half of the shredded cheese.
    Remove the onion from the oven and set the peppers into the dish like spokes in a wheel, wide ends out, with onions between the chiles.  While the dish is still hot, quickly pour in the egg batter and return to oven; it will not completely cover the chiles.
  5. Reduce heat to 425 degrees and bake until it is puffy, about 15 minutes.  Remove and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.  Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes,, until it is inflated, the cheese melts, and the top is firmly set and it is taking on color; a total of 20- 25 minutes.
  6. Serve immediately, while fully raised.  It will deflate somewhat but will remain puffy.  It is also good served at room temperature.  Serves 4 or more.

The Land of Enchantment

Hatch PeppersOn my recent road trip to Austin, Texas I made a weekend stop in Las Cruces and nearby Hatch, New Mexico, proclaimed Chile Capitol of the World and home to the famous hatch chile pepper.  So highly regarded are these peppers that even neighboring Texas holds festivals in their honor.   There are different degrees of heat in these green chiles, but all are known for their bright citrus flavor.  As they say in New Mexico, the poblano is no competition.

Roasted Hatch Peppers It was dark when I pulled into the quirky Big Chile Inn in Las Cruces.  New Mexico had me as soon as I stepped out of my car and was enveloped in a sweet smoky cloud of roasting chile peppers.  I knew the next day I would be making a pilgrimage to Hatch, in search of their legendary roots.

Las Cruces’ fertile Mesilla Valley is also the depository for the Rio Grande River and a rich flood plain that grow pecans, pistachios, corn, chiles, grapes, and peppers.  While friends and family extolled the amazing sauces and dishes of New Mexico, I was far more curious about exploring this strange pocket of agriculture carved out of sheer barren desert.

The next day I browsed an artisan’s market set in the historic town square of the quaint adobe style village of Mesilla.  Locals overwhelmingly recommended Sparky’s in Hatch for one of their world famous Hatch Green Chile Cheeseburgers.

Well, ok. I’m on my way.  Some may say Sparky’s is just another hamburger joint, but don’t tell that to the locals.  On weekend afternoons, live music is a popular draw.  There is plenty of barbecue, tacos and burritos, but the burger was really delicious―loaded with melting cheddar cheese and tons of hatch chile pepper strips.   That’s it, and well worth the trip.   Love those peppers!

Hatch is about 30 miles outside of Las Cruces, heading north on Hwy 25 toward Albuquerque.