Capsicums at your table

ELIZABETH LATHAM
Last updated 13:01 08/02/2013
Capsicum
Robert Corlett
STEP BY STEP: Authentically Mexican, Chile Rellenos are a deliciously different way of enjoying capsicums.

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At the Table

Hot from the pot There's no taste like home Land of hops and honey Eating on the street A taste of the tropics Myths and mellow fruitfulness Crustacean craving Oh for onions Terrific tomatoes Cable Bay Cafe keeps it local

It is that time when peppers and chiles (Spanish spelling) come into their own. This is the time to indulge.

There are more than 200 varieties of chiles grown in Mexico, the home of the capsicum plant. Capsicums are native to Central and South America as well.

A wild variety of capsicum was found on anthropological sites in central Mexico dating back to 7000 BC. This variety is called capsicum annuum and it is this species that is grown and cultivated today in a myriad of different forms.

Chiles have spread all over the world and are equally central to the cuisines of Asia. India is the largest exporter of chile in the world.

Red, green and yellow bell peppers are a cultivar of capsicum annuum and are sweet and thicker skinned than most of their chile cousins. For some reason, in New Zealand, these sweet red, yellow and green peppers are called "capsicum". All of the varieties that make up the species are in fact capsicum so the name given to peppers here is confusing at best.

I call them "peppers" and I call chiles "chiles" so I will stick to that for the rest of this story. The good news is that they contain antioxidants, Vitamins A and C and this concentrates as the pepper ripens so, aside from tasting great, they are also good for us.

I am disappointed it is not possible to buy a greater variety of chiles and peppers in Nelson. I was in Moore Wilson's in Wellington a few weeks back and it was great to see such variety and with a big poster identifying and explaining to the shoppers what each one was and how to use them and their degree of heat.

One of the most interesting things about chiles is how varied the flavour envelope is. It is for that reason that I think it is disappointing that in general, markets simply say "chiles" and don't tell you the origin or the actual name of the type of chile. There is much to be learned from the cultures where chiles are central to the cuisine.

I am sure there are some growers out there locally, otherwise you need to grow your own from seedstock if you want them fresh. Buying dried chiles is much easier.

I am told by my Mexican daughter-in-law Brisa that there is a man at the market who has some array and at the moment is selling pablanos. Pablanos are a mild chile from the state of Puebla in Mexico. When dried it is called an ancho. They grow to about 10-12 cm and have a long tapering point. Pablano have thick walls which means that they are great for stuffing and they form the basis for a very famous Mexican recipe called Chile Rellenos. I will be sharing this recipe and one from Mapua using red peppers. Both recipes are about stuffing peppers with delicious ingredients that show off the capsicums in all of their splendour.

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I am going to give you the recipe for chile rellenos in a detailed pictorial essay so that you can try for yourself. This recipe comes from Brisa and is authentically Mexican. In Mexico the pablano is stuffed with queso fresco (fresh cheese). It is a mild cheese and soft. Here, Brisa uses a combination of feta, mozzarella and ricotta.

CHILE RELLENOS WITH RED SALSA

Serves 4

8 pablanos
100g feta
100g ricotta
100g mozzarella
4 spring onions finely chopped
Bunch of coriander finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
3 egg whites and 1 egg yolk
Flour for dusting
300ml of vegetable oil for frying

First the pablanos must be charred to remove the skins. Put a rack over a gas flame and char the chiles over high heat so as not to cook the flesh, turning them until they are black. Put the chiles into a plastic bag and leave for a few minutes. Remove from the bag and pull off the charred skins. Open one side of the chile and remove the seeds under cold water. Make sure you keep the stalk to be able to hold onto when you coat the chiles in egg mixture.

Make the stuffing by combining the cheeses, onion, coriander and black pepper. Fill each chili and close with a toothpick.

Beat the egg whites until peaks form and then add in a beaten egg yolk. First dip the chiles in flour and then coat well with the egg mixture. Cook in hot oil until golden.

RED SALSA

This is delicious and can be served with many different dishes

Makes 2 litres

12 small tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
1 jalapeno chile
to 1 tsp of chipotle paste
2 Tbsp of fresh oregano
1 Tbsp of fresh marjoram
4-6 Tbsp sour cream
1 Tbsp of flour or masa
800ml water
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast the tomatoes over a gas flame and place in a blender or food processor with all the other ingredients until smooth. When ready to use heat thoroughly until smooth and slightly thickened.

Serve with rice

STUFFED RED PEPPERS MAPUA STYLE

(I tried the red salsa with these and some grilled lamb chops and it was delicious)

Serves 4

Preheat oven to 180
4 red peppers
4-6 slices of fresh bread
cup of grano padano cheese
1 tsp of chile flakes
3-4 anchovies
3-4 Tbsp of local extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the peppers in half and clean out the seeds.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in the food processor and process until bread is crumbed and the ingredients are well combined.

Stuff each pepper, drizzle with oil and then bake in the oven until the peppers are cooked and the stuffing is golden

- Nelson

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