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Chile peppers bring both sweet and fiery zest to dishes — discover a fascinating and seemingly endless variety within the pages of this delightful book.Contrary to popular belief, a pepper does not need to make your eyes water or start a fire in your mouth to qualify as a chile. “Chile” is simply the common name for the fruit of the capsicum plant and chiles come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and flavors.

There are five major species of chile peppers and thousands of varieties, in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors. Even experts disagree about how many there actually are. So it is probably not surprising that the spelling for the word itself is somewhat problematic. Is it chili, chilli or chile? You are likely to come across all of those spellings if you are reading up on the topic.

This comprehensive book (which serves as both a reference and a cookbook) from bestselling author and expert researcher Judith Finlayson takes you through dozens of chiles and provides absorbing information on everything from the historical and geographic origins of chiles to information on the Scoville scale (which measures the hotness of a chile and was invented by Wilbur Scoville) to the health benefits of chiles and finally, 250 delicious and inventive recipes.

Full color throughout, this book takes inspiration from chiles and embraces them with an enthusiasm that maximizes their true flavor potential. From fiery Tex-Mex inspired meals to savory and sweet Thai dishes, this incredible collection of recipes is sure to make you a lover of all things chile.

Aleppo Peppers

Do you ever stop to think that all the casualties of war aren’t just human lives? Take Aleppo pepper, for instance. It’s a Syrian chile, dried and crushed with a mild, fruity flavor and it’s one of my favorites. It has been grown in that country for centuries.  Sadly, because it is traditionally cultivated in the war-torn region around Aleppo, the city for which it is named, this pepper is no longer available for export. Most suppliers now substitute Turkish Maras pepper.

The Maras pepper is a very close relative – probably even the same variety — and it is grown in a very similar terroir, so for culinary purposes, if properly grown, it is probably a satisfactory swap. But I am grieving the loss of the authentic Aleppo. I discovered it many years ago in Montreal; Phillipe de Vienne, an extremely knowledgeable spice vendor, imported it for his shop Epices de Cru in the Jean Talon market. At the time, I was experimenting with a Middle Eastern cooking and was immediately smitten by the pepper’s sweet yet spicy flavor. I associate it with a time in my life when I was learning about Middle Eastern cuisine and exploring other regional spices and herbs such as sumac and za’atar.  It is part of my memory bank — like Proust’s madeleines – and in some ways, I feel like I have lost a friend.

If peace ever returns to Syria I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the farmers will return to their land and our supply of authentic Aleppo pepper will begin again.  In the meantime, chile growers are keeping the variety alive. Thanks to chile grower extraordinaire, Rebecca, Johnston at chilli-seedz.com for cultivating the Aleppo pepper in Queensland Australia, and also for her beautiful photo. 

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Cuban-Style Hash (Picadillo)

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Picadillo is Spanish for “hash.” Essentially, this is a Cuban version of the good old American mélange, eaten on its own or used as a filling for empanadas. Spanish influences, specifically Andalusian, are obvious due to the addition of olives and raisins. Picadillo is often served topped with hard-cooked or fried eggs and is usually accompanied by fried plantains.

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A Chile Is a Chili Is a Chilli

 

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Many aspects of the chile are extremely confusing, from its historical misnomer (pepper) to the nomenclature of its many varieties, which even horticulturalists have difficulty sorting out. So it is probably not surprising that the spelling for the word itself is somewhat problematic. Is it chili, chilli or chile? You are likely to come across all of those spellings if you are reading up on the topic.

According to horticulturist and capsicum expert Paul Bosland, the name is derived from the word chil, which comes from the Aztec dialect and refers to plants from the Capsicum genus. The “e” ending is the correct Spanish spelling. English linguists (who probably didn’t know any better) changed it to an “i.”

Although most people associate the word chile with hot peppers, in fact the word refers to capsicums in general, whether they are spicy or not. The word chili refers to the dish, as in chili con carne.

Middle Eastern Walnut Dip (Muhammara)

 

 

Depending upon the source you consult, this roasted red pepper and walnut dip is Armenian, Arabian, Turkish or Syrian in origin. In any case, it is healthful, delicious and a welcome addition to any mezes platter. I like to serve it with warm pita bread or cucumber slices. If you are not meat-averse, this dip can also be used as a sauce for kebabs.

 

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A peek into my kitchen

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A peek into my kitchen: I keep my kitchen utensils close at hand and in vessels I’m fond of –antique white ironstone jugs. Handy and pretty.