Green chiles — a spicy, savory addition to any Mexican dish, from enchiladas to rellenos, even chili verde. But did you know that green chiles are also a harbinger of fall?
Sure, out here in the West, we have cooler weather and changing leaves. Sort of. Our leaf-changes usually focus on yellow aspens, rather than blazing orange. (We do get reds from the sumacs.) But that happens slowly and painstakingly, as if the mountains are reluctant to pull their tree blankets up for the coming winter.
One of the sure signs that Autumn is coming are the chile stands. They come from New Mexico (Hatch is the best) or southern Colorado, and set up in parking lots and by gas stations, here in the Denver area. And for one blissful month or so, they sell chiles. You can buy them by the basket — or for the true aficionados, by the bushel. (Ask for mild or medium, unless you really like the heat.) You can buy them green, or red, or mixed — I think the reds are sweeter, but they often cost more, as well.
Then the best part comes — ask the man to roast them slowly in the barrel-shaped roaster. Ummm...that wonderful, smoky odor as the fresh pods snap and crackle. It wafts up and down the street, and people start thinking about Mexican food for supper. Don’t let the chile man roast them all — you’ll want a needle and thread to make a ristra:
These hot pepper wreaths are the Western version of Christmas lights. They hang outside until snow flies — then bring them inside, and crumble a pepper or two for your next winter dish. They add color and taste — and look great, besides.
The rest of the chiles? Take a minute to clean out the seeds of the roasted ones; that’s what really brings out the heat. Then rinse and package them in plastic bags for the freezer. You can roast your own chiles, by holding them over a gas element or hot burner. (Toast them until the skins crackle and start to blacken.) But I like them done in one big odiferous batch, by the roasters. They’re perfect for my favorite green chile.
COLORADO-STYLE GREEN CHILI
- 4-5 green Anaheim chiles, roasted, seeds removed and roughly chopped (yes, you can use jalapenos this way, too)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1- 1 1/2 pounds pork, chopped or roughly ground
- 1-2 tablespoons garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 large can or jar tomatoes in juice
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes or 1 cup chicken broth
- 2-3 cups cooked pinto or Anasazi beans (use these only if you like them – they’re not critical, but stretch the chili)
- 2-3 tomatillos, chopped (again, not critical — but they improve the taste. Substitute 3-4 tablespoons of chili verde sauce, if you like)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch, stirred into 1/4 cup of water (for thickening)
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Brown the onion, garlic, pork and chilies together, until the pork is lightly brown. Dump all in a kettle or crockpot, then rinse out the good bits in the pan with water, and add it to the mix, along with enough additional water to cover the meat, plus about two inches. Add everything else, but the cilantro and cornstarch — they goes into the pot just a few minutes before you serve. Let cook slowly for at least 3 hours on the stove, or 8-12 hours on low in the crockpot, so the good smell drifts through your home.
Makes about 8 servings on its own — serve with warm tortillas, refritos (refried beans) and cheddar or Mexican cheeses like queso fresco or queso blanco. (These white, crumbly cheeses melt well in the bowl or on the tortilla.) Leftover chili can be used as a topper for enchiladas or huevos rancheros.
Look here for more Mexican green chile recipes.
Sure, it’s going to get cold. And rainy. And snowy. Soon. Who cares? I’m in heaven — chile paradise.
Cindy Brick lives and cooks in Castle Rock, Colorado. Look for more of her posts at her blog, A Brick Looks At Life.