Monday, February 16, 2009

Hot Peppers

I am a huge fan of hot peppers. I can not imagine cooking with out them. Much to my surprise, Panamanians are not big fans of them. When I moved to Panama I could sometimes find Habaneros, but not often enough. Now I know that Panamanian food is not Mexican food, not by a long shot, but no hot peppers in the markets? I was dying for hot peppers and Tabasco Sauce was not cutting it.

Obviously out of necessity, peppers were the first crop planted in my garden. I started with Jalapeños and Serranos. I have now expanded my varieties and plan on continuing to do so, there are so many varieties that have different flavors and uses.

Here is a quick list telling about the differences between the different kinds that I grow and how to use them. Many of the peppers are perennial and many die quickly when the rains come. I use so many that I am continuing to plant more and more out of fear of going without!

Jalapenos: These are the mildest of the hot peppers on my farm. But don't count them out for some good heat! They are the biggest in size about 3-4 inches long and 1-1&1/2 inches around which makes them great for stuffing. They have a fairly thick flesh. They have a definite green pepper flavor with the heat. They are great used in salsas, chopped up and used as a garnish over eggs, potato dishes, just about anything that you would like to have a little kick to. When dried and smoked it is known as a Chipotle.

Serrano: Next up on the heat level. They are similar in flavor to jalapeños, just with a more pronounced flavor and heat. Perfect for adding into guacamole. They are skinny, about 2-3 inches long and not as thick fleshed. I pepper. I use this pepper cooked more often than fresh. I saute them with onion and garlic when starting dishes like spaghetti sauce, beans, pilaf and stews.

Cayenne: Long, red, crinkly and hot. Some people like to make chile wreaths out of these. Cute I guess, if you like to dust food. This pepper is great to flavor oil or vinegar. It has great color. Dried and crushed, it is what is used for those red pepper flakes we put on pizza and other things.

Thai: Thai peppers are hot, skinny, Green or Red and about 1 - 1 1/2 inches long. Hot and perfect for use in Thai and Chinese food.
Habanero: This pepper is a Caribbean pepper. Very hot and fruity is the flavor profile. It is short, bell shaped and squat, I think that it is the cutest pepper, but watch out, it has the devil in it! Many can not take the heat. To take advantage of this peppers fruity qualities and lessen the heat qualities do not use the seeds, which is where the heat is. Blended up with some garlic and vinegar it makes a quick hot sauce

Naga Jolokia: This pepper is said be the hottest pepper in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It originated in India. It is fiery to say the least, but it has a great fruity flavor much like the habanero. This is a very unique pepper. It has a shape like the jalapeño, but crinkled. I am pretty sure that this is what I have...regardless, they are red and damn hot.

Yellow Lemon Peppers: Cute yellow peppers that are deceivingly hot! They are about 2 inches long and have a wonderful citrus flavor.Hot peppers should store in the fridge for a long time. Wash, dry, wrap up into a dry paper towel and put into a zip lock. They should last between 1-2 weeks.

Birds Eye Peppers: Super tiny cute things, only about 1/4 inch long. These are native here in Panama, I see them around.

When thinking about the recipe to include here, I was considering all of the great world cuisines that use hot peppers regularly, such as Mexican, Thai, Chinese and Indian. It was hard for me to pick which one of my favorite dishes to share with you, I have so many favorites. Since I have promised some vegan dishes, here is one of my favorite Indian dishes. More will come in time.

Coconut- Serrano Dal

I learned this recipe at a cooking class in Eureka, Ca. There is not any kind of accreditation on my hand written recipe that I received, but I am pretty sure that it is adapted from
Madhur Jaffrey.
Dal is an Indian dish that is made out of many different kinds of dried peas, lentils or beans. There are endless variations of Dal, depending on which of the Indian States it comes from.

I have not been able to find many Indian ingredients here in Chiriqui. One would normally use Toor or Toovar Dal in this recipe, but at Romeros, there are small yellow split peas in the dried beans section that works just great. I have heard that there is an Indian market in Panama City. Let me know about its name and whereabouts if you know of it and I will pass it on to my blog readers.

Serve this dish with Basmati Rice and different chutneys and raita, which is plain yogurt mixed with salt, pepper and various veggies, like cucumber or tomato.

1 cup small Yellow Split Peas, preferably Toover Dal, washed and rinsed
3/4 cup Water
1/4 t. ground turmeric
1 T. Onion, finely chopped
1 t. ground Cumin
3-5 Serranos, stemmed and split down the middle lengthwise. You can remove the seeds if you like.
2 T Vegetable Oil
1 T Black Mustard Seed
1/2 - 1 t. Crushed and dried Red Pepper
4 Garlic cloves, minced
1 Tomato, medium size, diced
3/4 t. Salt.
1/2 to 1 cup Coconut Milk (to taste)

In a heavy based pot that has a lid, bring dal, water and tumeric to a boil. Watch it, it boils over fast. Immediately turn down the heat, cover with the lid slightly ajar to let some steam out and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add the Onion, cumin and peppers. Cook for another 15 to 30 minutes until the peppers are tender. The dal should be a dry, thick paste consistency at this time. If the dal is not cooked, add a little water and continue cooking.

In a small frying pan, heat the oil until hot and add the mustard seed. When they start to pop, add the red pepper, garlic and tomato. Stir all together until softened. Pour into the dal and stir. Add salt and coconut milk and mix in.

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