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FINDS : A Chile September

September 17, 1997

It's pepper season! OK, it's actually pepper season all year long for some varieties, such as bells, jalapen~os, Anaheims, green serranos and Fresnos. But peppers are at their peak right now, and we're seeing many more kinds than usual.

In particular, we're seeing red, fully ripe versions of peppers that are available only green most of the year. Buy them quickly and use them quickly--both their season and their shelf-life are brief.

Don't expect fresh peppers to be as different from each other as dried pepper varieties are. All fresh peppers have much the same aroma, because their individual flavors are more or less masked by 2-methoxy-3-(2-methylpropyl) pyrazine, one of the most powerfully aromatic chemicals known.

It's only when peppers dry out and the fresh-pepper aroma evaporates that their particular qualities come to the fore. For instance, a long, thin, blackish-green pepper called chilaca, delicious though it is, has only a hint of the inky flavor it will show when it dries into chile negro (usually called chile pasilla outside California).

So you should buy fresh peppers for variety, for distinctive color and for a wider range of hotness than bell peppers or jalapen~os give. The mild ones are excellent in salads. Since the red varieties are picked ripe, they naturally have a little more sweetness than the green form.

You should also consider fresh peppers for nutrition. Fresh, fully ripe peppers are among the very richest sources of Vitamins A and C. (Dried peppers lose most of their Vitamin C content.)

We went to a couple of markets last week and found the following (more will be showing up soon, such as fresh cayennes):

Yellow banana, also known as Hungarian wax--a mild pepper often used for pickling.

Poblano--slightly more pungent than a bell pepper; the classic pepper for chile relleno.

Red Anaheim--like the familiar green Anaheim, mild.

Manzano--mild; they really look like little green or yellow apples.

Yellow caribe (or Caribbean)--mild and sweet, apple-like.

Green and red Holland hot long--pleasantly hot.

Red Fresno--pretty hot; like the green Fresno, it looks rather like a jalapen~o but lacks the lengthwise cracks in the skin and the distinctive jalapen~o aroma.

Green and red serrano--very hot.

Red Thai--very hot; sweet, citrusy flavor. In Thai, this long, skinny pepper is called prik khi nu (rat-dropping pepper) because of its knobby appearance when it dries.

Red habanero and the more familiar yellow variety--shockingly hot--use with caution; wonderful fresh-vegetable aroma.

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