Monday, September 22, 2014

Pinch Cooking with the Ghost Chili (Yum) and Missing Real Jalapeños

I finally got around to trying the ghost chili pepper. A few months ago, my wife had bought me a bottle of the pepper, which came dried and smoked. The first time I smelt it, the aroma reminded me of jalapeños. Even though I had this information, I was reluctant to try the pepper, probably because my association with it as being something Indian, so my first experiment, according to my subconscious, probably should have been with an Indian dish. Also, admittedly, I was a bit afraid of the pepper. For the past few years, though, I have been really missing real jalapeños. I haven't found a real jalapeño since I lived in the Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of Texas. Those peppers are full of flavor and heat. The variety mostly available most everywhere else in the United States was developed by Texas A&M to have less heat, but it also has less flavor. The real jalapeño flavor is something special, which you would understand if you have ever experienced it. In the Rio Grande Valley, we could get the real jalapeño from the pulga in Brownsville directly from people connected to small growers in Mexico. I actually remember the first time I had one of those Mexican jalapeños. When I moved to Brownsville from the Austin area, I thought I really had an affinity for spicy food. I used to put a lot of store-bought jalapeños in my food, the more the better. I thought I was immune to the capsaicin effect. I tried to cook the same way with a bag of jalapeños from the pulga. The first dish I made was inedible because the heat was too intense. After a while, though, I learned to cook with these jalapeños, and I grew really addicted to their taste. I noticed that the delicious papas a la Mexicana tacos from our local taqueria were insanely hot (but bearable) and had the jalapeño flavor even more pronounced than I had been familiar with before. I realized that the jalapeño flavor was delicate and could easily be overwhelmed by other flavors. The trick was to avoid using too many other flavors. The taco I created had a simple sautéed tofu with nutritional yeast and salt and potatoes with ground Mexican chili powder (a type of paprika that isn't hot), roughly chopped jalapeños, and onions. Avocado slices are excellent in this taco. It is a really simple but extremely flavorful taco, if you happen to be able to get a hold of the real Mexican jalapeño (the kind of chili powder is important, too). A&M jalapeños are worthless and flavorless for this dish, hence my longstanding jalapeño deprivation depression. I made this taco with the ghost pepper this time, and it was quite delicious. I was a bit cautious with the pepper to avoid making an inedible taco. It had a nice smokiness and was a bit reminiscent of the real jalapeño, but it was different. It was nice and had a sustained heat to the taco. I would definitely make these again. I am still depressed about not being able to get my hands on the Mexican jalapeño, but the ghost pepper works really well in a pinch for this taco.

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