Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Drying chile peppers the lazy way

If you are a native Texan, you probably love spicy food. You grew up eating BBQ and Tex-Mex from a young age, and crave heat. Our local cuisine is heavy on chiles, and I am convinced that this is due at least in part to the fact that they are so easy to grow here. Chiles require no attention, love the heat, and produce like crazy all summer. They are in many ways the perfect vegetable to grow in Houston.

In our garden, we have jalapeno, cayenne, poblano and anaheim chile plants. Right now, they are producing copious amounts of peppers. Even if I liked spicy food, there is no way we could keep up with the garden. Instead, I cut the peppers off the plants and bring them inside to dry. You can hang them up, use a fancy vegetable dryer, or make pretty braided bunches, but the lazy way to dry the chiles is to just leave them out on the kitchen counter or table. It's that simple. If you harvest while the peppers are still green, you will see an amazing transformation from green to orange to red before the pepper starts to shrivel up and dry. Peppers that are particularly easy to dry which this technique are cayenne, poblano and anaheim. It is probably better to use your jalapeno peppers fresh, their thick skin making it a bit difficult, although I'm air-drying those too.

You'll know the process is done when the pepper feels hard and dry, and weighs next to nothing. At this point, store the dried chile in an airtight container and use as needed. Dried chiles have a very long shelf life, and will provide you with many spicy meals during the cold (as in 80 degrees) fall and winter ahead. Or, if you love to look at them as I do, just leave them in a bowl as your table centerpiece.

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