triple roasted salsa // life in the southwest, part II

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Life in the southwest is all about the Tex-Mex, let me just tell ya. We have about a bazillion Mexican restaurants in town, and although we’ve only tried a few we are really, really happy about this. I love Mexican food — the chips and salsa, the sizzling fajita plates, the melt-in-your mouth barbacoa, the chili verde and the carnitas. If you play your cards right in a restaurant, this cuisine can be pretty nutritious, too. Although, that’s not what this post is entirely about. This post is about my proximity to authentic peppers.

We were at a local dive earlier this week, watching the BCS bowl and getting to know the local bar scene. Needless to say, it was a Monday night and not many people were out to party — neither were we. But we currently live without a television (and love life that way), and so our desire to support the SEC from a distance could only be quenched at a sports bar. (Don’t worry, all. I had a Whole30-approved club soda with lime — no challenge-busting beers for me here.) The game was less than thrilling, to say the least, but what was more enthralling was the incredible scent of homemade chili filling the bar. One of the bartenders brought in a huge pot of her homemade chili for customers to enjoy while watching Monday Night Football, and it gave the bar a warmer, homier touch. I asked her about her ingredients and they were mostly your typical chili mix-ins — tomatoes, beans, ground beef, onions, a little brown sugar, spices. But the spices. She had a friend across the border who routinely sent her huge buckets of freshly roasted and ground Mexican chilis, with which she made her own chili powder seasoning mix. I didn’t even taste the chili, but I could smell and entirely new level of flavors: something roasty, smoky, deeply sweet-hot. Exhibit A.

Exhibit B refers to the ever-changing produce available at my local commissary. It’s pretty cool the way the offerings change every week, even though sometimes there aren’t avocados or kale greens when I “need” them. (How am I so disconnected from the seasons that I eat avocados in the winter? I digress.) I got so excited the other day when I found kabocha squash that I bought three, only to discover that Andrew doesn’t like them. But one thing I know he does like is something spicy, and so when they were available I bought a pound of Hatch peppers.

SONY DSCHatch peppers are grown almost exclusively in New Mexico (howdy, neighbors!), and with their mellow flavor and medium-bodied spice they are the perfect accompaniment to almost anything, from soups to dips to my favorite slow-roasted meat dishes. My parents fire-roasted some this summer and gave us a few to sample, and from then on we were all Hatch pepper converts. My mom keeps hers in the freezer, and every once in a while breaks off a chunk to add to vegetable soup or a chicken dish that needs some flavor oomph.

Without a grill, I did my best to simulate the fire-roasting by charring these babies in a 475 degree oven. Before they got too black I turned the heat back down to 400 degrees to keep them cooking, and the end result was a soft pepper with plenty of crispy, black skin. I used some in my Roasted Chicken Chili, and used the rest to make a crazy salsa verde that I’m not exactly sure what to do with. Stay tuned.

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Roasted Triple Pepper Salsa

5-7 Hatch peppers

1 small habanero (this is what took the salsa to the next level — I recommend omitting this if you don’t want it too hot)

1 jalepeno

4-5 cloves roasted garlic

1/2 yellow onion, caramelized (reserve from an earlier recipe or roast in the oven alongside other ingredients)

2 limes, juiced

juice of half a lemon

1 bunch cilantro

1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp. salt, cumin

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

Wash the peppers and dry-roast in an oven set to 475 degrees. When nicely charred, lower heat to 400 degrees and cook until tender. When cool enough to handle, remove stems. Remove seeds from jalepeno and habanero peppers. Pulse in food processor with other ingredients, seasoning to taste.

With the habanero, this salsa was a little too hot for comfort even though the flavor was good. Next time, I’ll omit that tiny, powerful pepper, but keep the zesty citrus, the smoky spices, and the vibrant cilantro for a more mellow salsa.

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