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Farmers' Market Desserts
By Jennie Schacht

The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia: Everything You'll Ever Need To Know About Hot Peppers, With More Than 100 Recipes
Dave DeWitt

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Edible Pepper Garden
By Rosalind Creasy

The Pepper Pantry: Habaneros
By Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach

The Great Chile Book
By Mark Miller

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Tips on Chili Peppers

  • The truth about seeds and veins
    Removing the seeds and veins reduces a pepper’s heat. But it also significantly alters a pepper’s taste, a point stressed by Reed Hearon in La Parilla: The Mexican Grill. Cleaning out the insides, therefore, sometimes is desirable but at other times isn’t, advises Hearon, chef/owner of the San Francisco-area Cafe Marimba and Restaurant LuLu. He makes another point about how not to moderate a chile pepper’s heat: "If you don't like hot food, don't use less of a chile; instead make a dish that uses a different chile."

  • The trouble with varietal names
    Don't bother shopping for peppers by name, since the names differ. "It is wiser to shop by appearance," say Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger in Mesa Mexicana. Generally speaking, the smaller the hotter, pepper authorities say. But beyond that, don't count on shape or color to be a predictor of a pepper’s heat. Virtually all peppers of all heat gradients, after all, start out green and turn red when ripe. The surest way to know how fiery a chile is: taste it.

  • Roasting peppers
    Roast peppers under a broiler, over the flame of a gas stove, "or, even better, a bed of hot coals," writes Annie Somerville in Fields of Greens. Turn the peppers regularly until the skin is blackened. Place the piping hot peppers under a kitchen towel to steam for a few minutes, which loosens the skin for easy removal. Freeze charred peppers in a zip-lock plastic bag, thawing as needed over the course of the winter.

  • How to pan-roast peppers
    Pan roasting is a technique that harks back to the pre-Columbian days when the only fats native to Mexico were pumpkin seed oil and armadillo fat. Neither, it seems, is well-suited for frying chiles, and that is why pan roasting was invented. Use a dry, clean flat-topped "comal," or alternatively a heavy pan, Hearon advises. Heat it over a low or medium-low flame and arrange the peppers without oil on the hot surface, turning them frequently while they slowly turn brown -- but not black -- on all sides. When done, the vegetables "boil" beneath their skin, with bubbles of water breaking through to the surface, indicating that the cell walls have ruptured and the peppers are soft.

  • How to skin a pepper
    "Pimentos are our favorite for stuffing... but beware of its unusually tough skin," writes Somerville. Hearon sometimes fillets sweet peppers, to lessen the watery flavor and intensify the colors, he explains. For those who have that kind of time, here’s how it’s done: Cut the peppers lengthwise into pieces. "After cleaning them, lay the pieces on a counter, skin side down, and press as flat as possible. Then, with a sharp paring knife fillet the pepper pieces, cutting off all the inside ridges and veins to leave only the fattest reddest flesh."

  • Quelling fire in the mouth and throat
    Water won't help, as a morbid folktale from the Caribbean, retold in the The Pepper Pantry: Habanero cookbook, attests. A mother fed her children habanero stew and they drowned in the river trying to cool their tongues. Instead, drink milk, or eat rice or bread, which absorb capsaicin, suggests Robert Berkley, in Peppers: a Cookbook, or drink the juice of tomatoes, lemons or limes, which have acid that supposedly counteracts the alkalinity of the fiery compound. "My own favorite retaliation against attack by hot chili pepper is to simply eat another," Berkley adds. "And if that doesn't work, eat another."

  • After touching a pepper, don't touch your eyes
    One other pointer, for the few who haven’t already learned the hard way: Don't touch your eyes after cutting hot peppers, or even after touching a knife that has touched hot peppers. And for those with sensitive hands, or when handling the hottest of the hot peppers, some recommend putting on a pair of "instant gloves" -- a liberal coating of olive oil.

Copyright 1997 Seasonal Chef