In the relentless long game of regular home cooking, I've found that few things lend interest to a dish quite like chiles. They're the spicy, fruity, bright, earthy edible glitter of life.
I'll save a treatise on dried chiles for another day. Today, I want to rhapsodize a little on the magic of fresh, roasted and pickled chiles. Lately, I've been stocking up on them en masse for days when cooking dinner feels especially insurmountable. Fresh sweet red and yellow bells; tangy Anaheims; fiery serranos; and mild, vegetal poblanos. Plus, frozen or canned roasted Hatch green chiles; pickled banana peppers and jalapeños; and jarred sweet piquillos or cherry peppers.
I like deploying them as sneaky flavor accents in all manner of dishes. A red bell pepper blistered on the stovetop creates a delicious base for pesto when blitzed with olive oil, toasted almonds, garlic and a little vinegar. Pickled peppers lend zing to slow-stewed beef, tuna salad, grilled cheese and scrambled eggs. Roasted green chiles add tang and earthiness to an elemental pasta sauce of garlic, anchovies and lemon.
Perhaps my favorite application of late involves mixing together chiles in a few of the aforementioned guises — roasted and pickled, for example — then tossing them with oil and red wine vinegar to make a coarse vinaigrette. I flavor it with thinly sliced red onion, woodsy oregano and whatever mild(ish), soft fresh herbs I have.
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This is an excellent dressing for a sturdy romaine hearts salad with breadcrumbs and shaved manchego, a summery pasta salad or a mixture of thinly-shaved crunchies like carrots, celery and onion. You can toss it with just-roasted potatoes for a delightful side dish or drizzle it over charred steak or grilled sweet potatoes (with feta, mmmm).
It would also make a terrific marinade for chicken or meaty fish. You can swirl it into white bean dip, drizzle it over boquerones for a posh Spanish snack or simply dunk fat hunks of toasted sourdough in it to your little heart's content. A very versatile pickled pepper dressing, indeed.
Recipe: Pickled Pepper Dressing
- 1 Anaheim, cubanelle or small poblano pepper
- 2-3 teaspoons mixed pickled peppers, chopped (See Cook's Notes)
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped)
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 teaspoons fresh arugula, basil, cilantro, dill or parsley, chopped (See Cook's Notes)
Roast the fresh pepper of your choice directly on the gas burner (or under the broiler if your stove is electric), turning often until it is blistered black on all sides. Zip the pepper in a bag for 15 or 20 minutes, then peel off most of the skin with a cloth or paper towel before seeding and dicing it.
- Add the freshly diced pepper to a medium bowl along with the pickled peppers, red onion and oregano. Pour in the red wine vinegar and olive oil, whisking furiously until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let the onion and peppers hang out in the dressing for at least 30 minutes before serving.
For the pickled peppers, think banana peppers, jalapeños, pepperoncini or piquillos — any combination you like, from sweet to hot.
Similarly, feel free to mix and match when you reach for the fresh herbs.
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