Finding the hot-hot-heat!

serrano.jpgI like my coffee hot, my beer cold and my ice-cream frozen solid. When it comes to food stuffs, there is nothing like hot-hot-heat. One of my favorite ingredients for good home cooking is the chile pepper. Heat comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes where the pepper is concerned. What I look for in the hot ones is long and pointy. It is said that thin and pointy peppers have the hot-hot-heat, the searing eye watering burn that accompanies the true chile experience.

There is generally one night a week when we like to cook up the spicy stuff. It is usually on laundry night for some strange reason. Don't ask me why because I do not know. Laundry being one of my assignments in the coffeecrew household, I like to pick a night when there is some comfort food involved. Nachos is one of those comfort foods. It is vegetarian, it is healthy and there is the opportunity to load up the hot-hot-heat!

Consider the serrano pepper. This is the skinny cousin to the jalapeno. Oh, and by the way, it is about twice as hot as the jalapeno pepper. The serrano is my pepper of choice for guacamole and hybrid salsas that we prepare in our kitchen on laundry night.

A little history: The chile pepper has been used for hundreds of years in traditional native American cooking as well as in South East Asia. The country of Thailand, arguably, has the hottest recipes on the planet Earth. Alas, my plate of nachos, a decidedly American dish, is not the most exotic of hot food adventures. It does allow from some illustration of the heat phenomenon that we have grown to love.

So take an avocado. Picking a ripe or near ripe avocado is critical. I generally buy them when they are firm and give them a few days. They need to be fairly soft when you make guacamole, because if they are too firm or, god forbid, hard, you are going to have some trouble making this!

Take a sharp knife and run the blade around the fruit down to the pit. The pit of the avocado is about the size of a large walnut. You do not want to cut into the pit nor do you want to have an accident trying to cut through it.
Ok, now pull the two halves apart. You should have handsome green looking fruit and no blotches of black, which indicates over ripe fruit.
Take a spoon and scoop out the fruit down to the skin into a small bowl with 2 teaspoons of fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice. Bottled concentrate will do in a pinch.
Toss in a tablespoon or two of minced onion, shallot or green onion stem. Your choice. Toss in a couple of tablespoons of diced fresh tomato, watching out for watery pulp. You will probably put sliced tomato on your nachos so de-pulp a couple of firm plum tomatoes.
Grab a clove of garlic. You can use garlic powder but that is just not right. You can crush a garlic by hand, mince it with a sharp knife or press it with a swiss garlic press. This is what the crew use. We use about a whole garlic every two weeks. A swiss garlic press is an effort saver. They cost about 12 bucks. Buy one.

Moving right along, add a pinch of salt, some fresh ground pepper, a shake of cayenne pepper, a pinch of cumin, if you have it and finally, a pinch of crushed chile or chipotle pepper flakes.
Mash this with a fork but not so mashed it becomes a paste. Some like it chunky. Suit yourselves.
Prior to serving, clean a serrano or jalapeno pepper. Slice thinly and toss into the guacamole. Give the guacamole a final stir with a spoon or fork before serving.

For the nachos themselves, we spread a healthy layer of tortilla chips into a lasagna tray. The chips are decorated with sliced white mushrooms, de-pulped plum tomato, some green onion, and some pickled jalapeno peppers rings. Top with 1/2 cup of monterey jack cheese(shredded) and 1 to 2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.
This all goes into a 350(F) oven for about 15 minutes. No, not the guacamole! That sits on the counter. If I am feeling lazy, I will use a commercial salsa, one of many fine ones out there. I will dress it with a serrano pepper that has been thinly sliced and sprinkle these babies on the top of the salsa.

Fact: The heat of chile peppers cannot be put out with water or beer. If you find yourself in over your head where hot-hot-heat is concerned, keep some yoghurt handy. A teaspoon of yoghurt in your mouth will put out any chile fire no matter how hot. Trust me on this.

Enjoy this recipe. It is an almost weekly one for the coffeecrew. Remember this: It is cool to be hot.


Colin Newell lives, eats and drinks in Victoria, B.C. Canada

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