It’s chile time in Arizona. Every year in August the Hatch chiles arrive and hang around until October, This is an annual event around here, anticipated eagerly by salivating chile-heads who buy as many of the long green firecrackers as they can afford during the season. They freeze what they can’t use at once so that they can have a fix at other times of year when the craving becomes overwhelming.
Hatch chile peppers are the Southwest’s gold standard for chiles. They are grown in the Mesilla Valley around the village of Hatch, in southern New Mexico. The harvest begins at the end of July and goes until the first frost. Thousands of people from all over attend the annual Hatch Chile Festival in late August. There are all kinds of Hatch chiles, early-season green, late-season red, big and small, mild, medium, and Katie-bar-the-door!
When I think of a Hatch pepper, I think of a long green pod that resembles a common Anaheim pepper. They’re best roasted, then sweated in a bag until the skin sloughs off, and can be used in absolutely any dish going. When the pods ripen, they turn red, and h-h-h-hot! Often they’re dried and strung together in that ubiquitous symbol of New Mexico called a ristra. The ristra photo above was taken from the Hatch chile website (http://nmchili.com) The cook hangs her ristra outside in the dry New Mexico or Arizona air, then pulls off a pepper and grinds it into a fine chili powder whenever she needs it. This is the incendiary powder that gives New Mexican cuisine its unique flavor and kick.
One of my favorite things in the world to eat is chiles rellenos. Now, there are lots of rellenos recipes, and I love them all. The chile rellenos one usually sees in Mexican restaurants is stuffed with cheese or beef, coated in an egg batter, and fried, but I have an easy recipe that I make at home that is a lot less trouble and in its way, just as yummy.
Slit open a roasted green chile pepper, scoop out the seeds. Stuff with garlicky mashed potatoes that have been mixed with 1/2 inch bits of diced Monterey jack or sharp cheddar cheese. Sprinkle the top with shredded cheese and bake in a medium oven until bubbly. If you want, finish under the broiler for a few seconds until the top of the potatoes begin to brown.