Green Chiles of Summer

As creatures of the Southwest, eating local cuisine includes that of green and red chiles, dried chiles, chile salsa and chile spices. Plentiful sunshine and dry-light air create the perfect growing conditions for the widespread chile fields along the I-10 asphalt road east. The fields start at San Simon, Arizona and then skip into the beautiful Mesilla Valley of New Mexico, which includes the famous Hatch, New Mexico chiles. Mid-July to late September is the harvest season for green and red chiles.

Chile peppers come in all forms; mild, medium and hot. Many varieties of peppers are available and can add a little spice to your life. For those adrenaline-junkies out there: if it is your nature to endure the hottest chile you can find, there are plenty of varieties of peppers to satisfy your palate. Habaneros, Ghost peppers and Jalapenos are just some of the pepper varieties notorious for their heat. A gentleman named Wilbur Scoville developed a heat index for chiles, which is the industry standard for measuring a pepper’s pain index. For instance, green bell peppers have a value of zero Scoville units, whereas habaneros are rated as between 200,000 and 300,000. The hot pepper varieties warrant another article on-to-themselves, so for now…

Let me introduce you to a beloved friend of mine; the delicious green chile of the late summer. Late summer is chile roasting time with the air filled with that delicious scent of roasted green chiles. But what do you do with these lovely gems? Whether it’s Hatch green chiles or Anaheim peppers from Arizona the basic principle is the same. You can roast the chiles yourself over a grill or under the broiler. If you choose to purchase them roasted for you, take them home and either store them in the freezer or take them out and peel off the roasted skin, leaving you with a lovely green chile ready to eat. Green chile enchilada or fresh salsa, anyone?

The rich red chile of autumn is available at summers end when the green chiles are ripening and changing to a bright red color. That’s right, red chiles are the same peppers as the green, changing color at the end of their ripening season. All over the southwest you see the beautiful colored hanging “ristras”, or red chile strings, decorating our homes and for sale on our roadways. These chile strings are not only lovely to look at- they are a great way to dry the bright red fresh-from-the-vine chiles. After the chiles are dried, they can be used to make a red chile sauce (the basis for red enchilada sauce) or a multitude of other red chile dishes. A note on the chile ristras: you may ask if the chile strings have been sprayed with a preservative, as some decorative ristras are to be used solely for decoration purposes. Keep in mind, you don’t need to purchase a chile ristra to get dried red chiles. These are available in packages at your farmers market or latin grocery store.

As for me, I am a purist. Just give me a fresh roasted green chile, and I will mix it with fresh tomatoes, a little garlic and onion to spread over my grilled steak or hamburger. Ahhh, fresh green chiles. A perfect late summer delight, and one worth planning for!

Join Us at the Oro Valley Town Hall

for our Annual Chile Festival

Saturday, September 21

8 am to 12 noon