Dried peppers (Recipe: shrimp with romesco sauce)
Imagine Laurel without Hardy, Wallace without Gromit, Carrie Bradshaw without Manolo Blahnik.
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.
Also in The Perfect Pantry:
Mushrooms and pepper in puff pastry
Pueblo vegetable stew
Slow-cooked beef and green chile stew
Spicy turkey rolls
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Hooray for dried chilis! I currently have California, New Mexico, cascabel, de arbol, guajillo, aji mirasol, mulato, and pasilla oaxaca in my pantry, along with Aleppo, chipotle, ancho, and urfa biber powders, and habanero flakes. Mmm...chilis.
Amazing to think how new world vegetables like peppers (and tomatoes and potatoes)transformed cuisines around the world. It's hard to think of Thai food, for instance, without immediately thinking of hot peppers. Peppers are such an integral part of so many country's foods around the world.
There's also such an incredible variety of peppers. The ñoras are completely new to me and my first thought when I saw the picture was how cute they are!
Hello, fellow chilli lover! hehe ... These dried chile peppers are so beautiful! I love your photo ^^
The mere mention of dried peppers makes my mouth water :) I've heard so much of romesco sauce, and this recipe sounds delicious.
Coincidentally, I am just about to post a recipe that uses dried peppers!
What a gorgeous photo.
I truly don't know how I cooked without having a romesco sauce at hand. I love this one with the dried peppers. Great post, Lydia!
Uh..oh...I think I do not have dried chilis in my pantry. It is good to know that they can last indefinitely.
Dried chilis RAWK! Also, they last a long time, so you're totally justified in having lots and lots of them! :-)
Ain't this a great sauce? Great with fish or meat or veggies...and the pic of the dried peppers...sexy!
That's quite the chili collection you have - ay! Que caliente. :)
I also love cooking with dried chilis - especially on the spur of the moment. They're the perfect pantry item.
I've never seen romesco made with dried chilies. This is great! And don't forget that fabulous mole from Senora Gonzales in Oaxaca. A medley of dried chilies would be tasty, too.
I have some little red chilis but I dont know what they are - they're jalapeno shaped but smaller & skinnier, & much hotter (I'm not very tough though)...Anyway, I bought them fresh & they've sort of dried in the fridge over time, is that a good place to keep them or should I try to really dry them myself?
I am a huge lover of peppers and chilies and can't imagine life without them.
This dish sounds fantastic!
No my kitchen could not be mine without dried chilies. Great looking romesco sauce.
I have been reading a lot about this Romesco sauce, I had never heard of it before! Sounds delicious...and those peppers look incredible.
No dried chili in my pantry right now. Clearly I'm missing out! This sauce sounds amazing!
Dried chili is a MUST in my pantry! Your recipe sounds delish!
Something I never have on hand... but always wish I did!
Vicki, you're a woman after my own heart. Sounds like you have an even more perfect pantry than I do!
Julie, there was a wonderful book called PEPPERS that came out, maybe published by Vintage?, some years ago. It traces the journey of the pepper through the world's cuisines. Fascinating.
Wiffy, always glad to know of another chile lover!
Nupur, I saw your post too. I'm still learning about the incredible variety of dried chiles, and I always have several in the pantry.
George, thanks so much.
Mary, romesco is one of those sauces that, once you've made it, you find all sorts of uses for it.
Veron, oh no -- must have chile peppers!
Ann, I must admit that sometimes I do feel guilty about having so much on hand. I buy them when I find them in the market, precisely because they do last a long time.
Peter, thank you. Romesco with fish is wonderful, isn't it?
Ari, agreed -- anything that gives a quick flavor boost and keeps forever will always have a place in my pantry.
Julia, I keep lots of dried chiles for mole. In fact, when I visited Oaxaca a few years ago, I brought back loads of chiles in my bags. This was before the days of crazy airport security, of course.
Amy, the key to drying peppers without them turning to mold is keeping them away from moisture. As long as they are not picking up dampness from the fridge, they'll be fine -- but they probably won't dry completely. And remember, the smaller they are, the hotter they are!
Lynne, same here. Though I didn't learn to love hot and spicy food until the last 20 years or so. Before that, I wouldn't touch it. Now I can't imagine why not.
MyKitchen, chiles are essential for me, too.
Hillary, it's a popular sauce for tapas dishes, and now that tapas is getting more popular....
GirlCanBake, you must go to the market right away and put some chile in your pantry! And then come back here and make this sauce.
Simply Gluten Free, it's a must for me, and I'm always trying new varieties when I can find them.
Kristen, start with one, maybe the New Mexico variety that's easy to find in most supermarkets. If you like it (and you will!), pretty soon you'll find that you want to collect them all...
you´ve made them look so beautiful! I always find ñoras look a little forlorn, hanging next to the glossy peppers and fruits, but these have definitely rockstar status.
These look hot, Lydia!
It's funny, because although I guess I keep a number of different dried chiles on hand, for whatever reason, I've never quite thought of them as a pantry essential. But, asa your post very nicely illustrates, they are.
Lobstersquad, I made such a wonderful sauce from your gift -- I hope my photo has done them justice. Thank you so very much. xo
Patricia, they are not hot -- but a bit sexy, aren't they?
Meg, essential to me, absolutely!
Lydia, your peppers look beautiful and the sauce sounds delicious! Thanks so much for the link to my chili recipe; I will have to seek out some of the other chiles you mention.
I just bought my first bag of dried peppers today - I'm gonna take the hot plunge!!
Susan, I'm a huge chile hoarder. Dried chiles last in the pantry forever, and add a depth of flavor to all kinds of bean chilis.
TW, I'm excited! Best to clear off a shelf in the pantry now; chile buying is habit-forming.
I am so envious of your collection of dried chiles! I was at a Colombian restaurant recently (it was their Independence day on Sunday) and saw lots of interesting goods at the back of the restaurant. Including interesting looking dried chilies. But the lady selling it wasn't very helpful and kept talking to me in Spanish (most people think I am from Brasil - go figure). Anyway, I might go back there again soon after I figure out what they were. But I did get some panela, Mexican hot choc mix and a few other goodies :-)
Very curvy, too. ;)
Nora, sounds like you are all set for a fiesta!
Patricia, aren't these sexy little peppers? I'm so grateful to Ximena for sending them to me.