The FDA just announced that a bacterial strain found on fresh jalapeņos in a Texas distribution plant matched the strain responsible for the recent salmonella outbreak. Darn. Not only will this have major repercussions for people in the pepper and salsa business–but it is going to leave a gaping culinary void in my summer eating habits as my local farmers don’t seem to be in the jalapeņo business!
I didn’t really care about the salmonella warnings for tomatoes. I mean, I am very sorry for the people who got sick, and for the tomato farmers, and the incredible waste that the scare provoked, but it didn’t affect me personally. I practically live on tomatoes in the summer, but the heirloom ones from my greenmarket weren’t on the list of ones to avoid.
But jalapeņos, that’s another story. Cucumber salad with jalapeņos? Jalapeņo-basil pesto? Linguine with jalapeņo-butter and Parmesan (my covert cooking-for-one meal)? My daily summer salsa? Adios.
Seriously, there’s something about that green, smoky bite of jalapeņo–spicy but not too hot, a flash of fresh earthy edge. There’s nothing else quite like it. Jalapeņos are my secret go-to warm weather ingredient, a subtle fire that sneaks in to balance the sweet and savory summer flavors.
So what now? Some sighing is in order. Followed by playing around with some new peppers, I suppose. Feeling like a traitor, but secretly optimistic, here’s what I’m looking at:
Ancho (Poblano): Called poblano when green and ancho when greenish black, these are fairly mild, but the heat can vary from pepper to pepper. The ancho is the sweetest of the dried chiles.
Anaheim: Mild Anaheim is one of the most commonly available chiles in the United States; they’re sweetish and a little smoky.
Chile de arbol: Related to the cayenne pepper, this long, skinny red pepper is hot.
Guajillo: These are dried chiles with shiny deep red skin and medium heat.
Hot wax chiles: Similar to jalapeņos in their heat level and texture, maybe the best substitute?
Serrano: Small, about 1-1/12 inches long, serranos are hot and savory. The FDA has issued warnings about these chiles as well, but only because they look so similar to jalapeņos–the concern is that people will mistake one for the other.
Habaņeros: So insanely hot. The hottest of all peppers, but with a wonderfully unique flavor–just use cautiously.
So there will be some pepper experimenting in my kitchen. I’ll miss my jalapeņos for a while, but maybe I’ll find a new chile to love.
I think I’ll get my feet wet with this Avocado, Corn and Poblano Salsa or this Smoky Tomato Salsa, and who knows what’s next? Oh wait, maybe this Chilled Creole Tomato Soup with ancho chiles! I’d love to hear about chile peppers and recipes that you adore, and how you plan on coping through a summer without jalapeņos.