Dried peppers (Recipe: shrimp with romesco sauce)
Burgers without buns? Mac without cheese?
The Perfect Pantry without dried chile peppers?
In fact, at this very moment, I have five -- no, six -- uh, seven varieties of dried chiles on hand, not including the peppers in the photo, which went into the recipe below. I've got habañero and the tiny piquin (pronounced pay KEEN), for pure fire. Ancho (smoked poblanos), chipotles (smoked jalapeños) and guajillo, not too hot, for smoky richness. Mulato, dark brown, sweet and a bit fruity, medium hot. Sanaam, small and red, used in Indian cooking (I'm just starting to experiment with these). And, of course, New Mexico red chiles, medium hot and all-purpose.
Chile peppers, native to Central and South America and the Caribbean, are an excellent source of Vitamins A and C. The kick comes from capsaicin, a chemical found in the seeds, ribs and skin. Capsaicin stimulates digestion and circulation, which helps the body perspire and cool. It also "tickles" the taste buds, which explains its popularity in almost every culinary tradition.
Dried chiles are not merely peppers left out on the counter too long; they have their own taste, usually more rich and concentrated than fresh chiles. The heat in the pepper also concentrates as it dries. And the general rule applies: the smaller the pepper, the hotter it is.
When working with peppers, wear rubber gloves or coat your hands with vegetable oil. To tone down the heat of a pepper, cut it open and remove the seeds and the white ribs. Then, wash your hands carefully, and don't rub your eyes. (Do this once, and believe me, you'll never do it again.)
Dried chiles will keep almost indefinitely in the pantry. Store them in a dark, dust-free place. If you're drying your own, make sure they are totally and absolutely dry before you store them, or you will create a happy environment for mold. I usually keep mine in glass jars, so I can see what's what.
Most recipes call for dried chiles to be toasted in a dry pan or on a griddle, then soaked in water to soften, and ground or blended into a sauce. Toasting enhances the flavor; for milder sauces, the peppers are soaked or cooked and allowed to steep in boiling water, without toasting. Remove the seeds and ribs before toasting, so that after the chiles are toasted, they're ready to be ground right away.
With a pantry full of dried chiles, you're ready to take on red chile enchiladas, pinto bean chili, turkey mole, or a big old bowl of red. You can even custom-blend your own chili powder or nam prik pao, which would make a great gift for the chile-head in your life.
Shrimp with romesco sauce
A traditional tapa, this recipe, inspired by Penelope Casas' Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain, also makes a great sauce for pasta or saffron rice. Ximena sent me the lovely ñoras in the photo -- which are quite mild -- from Madrid. If you can't find them in your local market, substitute New Mexico dried red chiles. Serves 6.
1 large ripe tomato
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 ñoras or New Mexico dried peppers
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (hot or mild, your choice)
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp plus 1 tsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4-inch slice from a long crusty loaf of bread
10 blanched almonds
Kosher or sea salt
Ground black pepper
1-1/4 lb medium (31-40 size) or large (26-30 size) shrimp, peeled and deveined
To make the sauce, roast the tomato and garlic in an ungreased roasting pan at 350°F for 30 minutes. Place the dried red peppers in a sauce pan with the water and 3 Tbsp of vinegar. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a small skillet and fry the bread until golden on both sides. Transfer to a food processor. In the same oil fry the almonds until golden and add to the processor, along with the boiled red peppers, crushed red pepper, garlic and tomato. With the motor running, pour in gradually the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil, plus the remaining vinegar, salt and pepper. Strain through a mesh strainer. Taste for seasoning, adjust as needed, and place in a serving bowl. Set aside.
Bring a small amount of water to a boil in a sauce pan, and cook shrimp for 2 minutes until just done. Cool, and serve with the sauce at room temperature. Or combine shrimp and sauce, and serve over pasta or rice.