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Go Ahead - Add a Little Spice to your Life
Entertaining the Question
July, 2005 - Issue #9
Dear Catering Divas,

It's summer and I am itching to put some heat into my dishes. Unfortunately, I'm a chile novice. Help!


Dear Chile Novice,

Thank you for bringing up one of our favorite topics. Just thinking about the ancho, chipotle, cascabel, de arbols, guajillos, habanero... it really gets us going!

No need to lament, Chile Novice. In our early days of cooking, the only chile we were familiar with came in a small can labeled "Ortega."

First, a quick introduction into the chile world... There are 150 to 200 different varieties of chiles, and they are grown primarily in Mexico, New Mexico, California, Texas and Arizona.

Fresh chiles vary in heat, acidity and citrus quality. The habanero (very hot) has a lively taste that reminds one of mango or papaya, and will pick up the flavors of a tropical salsa. Serranos, with their sharper green accents, go well with tomatoes and cilantro (mmm... salsa!).

While some of our recipes require special orders, we are most often able to purchase our fresh and dried chiles from Tresierra's Market on San Fernando Road in downtown Newhall. Whole Foods Market also carries a good variety.

And now a warning (don't make us gloat with a "We told you so!"): Except for chipotles in adobo sauce, you should avoid canned chiles at all cost - unless you enjoy metallic flavors and mushy consistency.

Fresh chiles should be roasted quickly and evenly; you can do this on your gas range or outdoor BBQ. Place on the open flame, then blister and blacken the entire skin without burning the flesh. After roasting, place the chiles in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to sweat and cool. The skin can then be easily pulled off with your fingers. Do not wash roasted chiles, as you dilute the natural oils and smoky flavor. When working with chiles, it's a good idea to wear food-handler gloves and it's an even better idea to remind yourself to avoid rubbing your eyes!

Santa Fe Vinaigrette
2 Roma tomatoes, halved
2 jalapeno chiles, cut in half lengthwise, stemmed and seeded
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp ground cumin


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place tomatoes, jalapenos and garlic, cut sides down, in a small foil-lined roasting pan. Brush lightly with oil. Roast until well browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Pull skins from tomatoes and garlic; place tomatoes, garlic and chiles in a blender or food processor. Add vinegar and any accumulated juices from roasting pan. Puree until smooth, then add oil in a slow stream with motor running. Add oregano, parsley and cumin; pulse to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Cascabel BBQ Sauce
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup cascabel puree**
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup dark beer
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
Salt and pepper to taste


Mix in small saucepan, simmer over low heat for five minutes. Use as basting sauce. This concoction is delicious with baby back ribs!

**Purchase dried cascabel chiles and soak in hot water about 20 minutes to soften. The softened chiles are pureed in a blender with a small amount of soaking liquid.

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When not burning their tongues on habanero chiles, Cindy and Tamra run RSVP Catering.
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