Updated from the archives, a summer favorite, with new photo, links and recipe.
Some like it hot.
I like it really hot.
I like it hot enough to make my scalp tingle, my sinuses drip, and my eyes water. (Do I need to mention that I'm talking about food now, not the weather?) I wasn't always like this, but a trip to New Orleans years ago started me down the pepper path, and there was no turning back.
Sometimes, though, unadulterated heat isn't the goal. When I want a more complex depth of flavor in Mexican and Southwestern dishes, I often reach for chili powder.
Are you confused by the whole chili/chile thing? Many people are, and product packaging doesn't really help, with the willy-nilly and often interchangeable use of chile, chili, chillie and chilli.
Chili-with-an-I powder is made from chile-with-an-E peppers, blended with a variety of other spices including cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, garlic, and paprika.
Each vendor (or should I say blender?) combines these basic spices in different proportions. Penzeys uses ancho chile as the base; ancho is a dried poblano pepper, not very hot, flavorful and smoky when dried. Cumin adds additional "smoke", cayenne adds a bit of heat, and oregano keeps the blend in balance. Alton Brown makes his chili powder extra-smoky by using smoked paprika.
It's easy enough to make your own chili powder, and you can adjust the heat to my taste by upping the cayenne. Chili powder will keep in an airtight container on the spice rack for three months, or in the freezer for a year without an unacceptable loss of pungency.
Once you've got chili powder in your pantry, it's a hop, skip and jump to your own barbecue sauce, enchiladas, and tacos. And remember, chili-with-an-I powder is an essential ingredient in chili-with-an-I meat and bean stew, too.
"Turkey taco" salad
Quick and oh-so-easy, this recipe originated as the filling for tacos and burritos. You can crisp some tortillas on a dry griddle, and slice them to make a crunchy topping for the salad, too. Serves 4; can be doubled or tripled.
2 tsp olive oil
1 lb ground turkey breast
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 dried habañero chile pepper (handle with care!)
2-3 tsp chili powder (mild or hot, to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes (I use Pomi brand)
1 cup chicken stock (optional)
4 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 large tomatoes, diced
1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar or jack cheese
In a high-sided frying pan or sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the turkey, and stir to break up. Cook until turkey is no longer pink. Add onion, and cook 3-4 minutes, until onion is translucent.
While the onion is cooking, place the habañero inside a ziploc bag. Close the bag, and smash the pepper with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. Pour the chile pepper into the pot (try not to touch the pepper), and add the chili powder, cumin and oregano. Stir to combine, and cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1 cup of water or chicken stock. Stir, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add more water if necessary, a few Tbsp at a time, to keep the sauce from getting too thick before the turkey is cooked through.
To assemble the salad, fill a bowl with shredded lettuce. Top with turkey filling, tomatoes and cheese. If you wish, add sliced fried tortilla strips.
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