Sunday, August 24, 2008

it's hatch chili time again...

It's Hatch chili time again. For those of you who don't live in the south, well…all I can say is, you're missing out. What this means’s harvest time for the famous chilis grown in Hatch, New Mexico, something every foodie looks forward to at this time of year. Hatch is a small town of about 2000 residents, approximately forty miles north of LasCruces, NM, in the Rio Grande Valley. The beautiful picture above, showing fields of ripening chilis, is from a website about the Hatch Chili Festival.

I have to admit, when I lived in the north, this wouldn’t have particularly interested me. I didn’t grow up eating peppers of any sort, not even bell peppers, say nothing of hot peppers. When I moved to Texas in 1983, I didn’t even like Mexican food, or so I thought…turns out I hadn’t actually had any real Mexican food, but happily, living in Texas, that was soon to change, and in no time at all, I was a complete and total convert. Of course, most Mexican food isn’t particularly hot, but peppers are always an option, starting with jalapenos. The first couple of times I tried those, I remember my eyes watered as I wondered why on earth anyone would willingly eat them. But jalapenos sort of grow on you. Within a year, if an abundance of jalapenos didn’t appear with any Mexican or TexMex food I’d ordered, I somehow felt I was being cheated. For what it's worth, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson might have felt something similar, as both are known to have grown chilies. In fact, twenty-five percent of the world eats chilies every day.

I haven’t become such a convert to hot foods that I enjoy the feeling that my mouth is on fire. The burning sensation in chiles comes from a collection of compounds called capsaicinoids and the shorter the molecule chain, the hotter the pepper. Coincidentally, in general, the smaller the pepper, the hotter it will be: most of the worlds hottest peppers are under 3" long, although the Naga Jolokia, officially the world's hottest pepper, can grow up to just over 3".

But back to the hatch chilis. When people talk about Hatch chilis, they aren’t talking one specific pepper but rather a variety of peppers grown in Hatch. People say there’s something magic in the air of New Mexico, and maybe there’s something to that, because chili connoisseurs seem to agree that there’s something about the sun and the soil and the waters of the Rio Grande that produces exceptional, unique chili peppers each year. At the beginning of the harvest season, green chilis are used in enchiladas, rellenos, and stews, and as the days go by and the peppers turn red, they are dried and used in sauces. Green or red, mild or hot, hatch chilis are delicious.

This afternoon I went to Central Market, which celebrates the Hatch Chili Festival with everything from salsa to brownies made with various hatch chilis. And tonight for dinner I had a hatch chili burger with hatch jack cheese, grilled medium rare, with a side of hatch macaroni and cheese, washed down with an icy Shiner Bock.

Mmmmmmmmmm. It doesn’t get much better than that.


dreaminglily said...

I'm cheating, I haven't read anything lol I just needed to say hi and let you know I'm still around... ish. Ever had a job that took over your life? Yeah... I'm there.

Miss my bloggers!!! I'll try and catch up soon I swear... But I just had a ten hr shift and I'm exhausted. I have to get to bed.


TJ said...

Oh Yeah! Coming...or wished I was.
A former New mexican still misses all though authentic flavors in the true Mexican style.
What a festival!
Take a bite for me...thanks for stirring some memories. TJ

Brooke said...

oh that sounds great! the photo you posted of the chili fields looks like a beautiful place. i wonder if tucson has some hatch chilis around here to celebrate...
but i have to ask, hatch chili brownies?

emmapeelDallas said...

Oh, Brooke, it's like in the movie...Water for Chocolate? Where they have the chocolate with chilis...DELICIOUS!