Summer Connection – Peppers

I’ve been spending lots of time in New Mexico lately – and it seems my future is destined to include north central New Mexico, a land of constantly changing sky, a mix of desert and forest, alpine and valley. The breeze blows fresh air from the north, the west, the east, and all that one really knows for certain about the weather is that from sunup to sundown, it is likely to change.

Another thing I know about New Mexico is that any food dish that can possibly include peppers will be made there. Green chili or red? Which is hotter? Depends on the season, and the word of the cook.

But first, let me explain that peppers and peppercorns are two different things. Peppercorns are mostly grown in Indian. This type of pepper is a climbing vine. The small fruits turn red when they are ripe, and when dried become black peppercorns. When the ripe fruit is soaked to remove the outer skin, they are then known as white peppercorns.

But the peppers I’m talking about that are so popular in New Mexican cuisine, are originally from South America, and are members of the nightshade family. There are sweet peppers, very mild, and there are chili peppers – much hotter, such as the cayenne pepper. These vegetables are dried and crushed to powder, making the chili powder that flavors so many dishes.

The sweeter peppers can be dried and ground up as well. They are used for making milder spices, including paprika.

Pepper growers have been ‘selecting’ hotter peppers and grow them deliberately, using the hotter seeds to plant the next season’s crop. As far as I can learn from the folks in New Mexico, when the peppers are ‘in season’ and ripe, the red ones are the hottest. Others times of the year, it can vary plant by plant.

So, whether you are eating Tex-Mex at a restaurant in your neighborhood or travelling to the southwest, enjoy some chili peppers. Bon appetite!

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