A Little Bit Chili

This post is about preparing chipotle chilies – it gets to the point eventually

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My post today was intended to be about how to prepare dried Mexican chipotle chilies, but chilies are such a fascinating subject, the post has become a bit more than a set of instructions. So it’ll be just the first of a series of chili posts.

Chilies, of any kind, are definitely on my desert island seasoning list. DSCN1124_2DSCN1127_2

I love the way a carefully added bit of chili can lift and excite a dish, and I find the world of chili growing and cooking an endlessly fascinating one. There are so many varieties, heat levels and ways of preparing chili, it’s not surprising that the world of chili has become something of an art form.

If you want to learn about the art of cooking with chilies – Mexican cooking is the perfect place to begin.

Here’s just a few examples of the variety of Mexican dried chilies –  clockwise from top left – Mulato; chipotle (morito); chipotle (meco); de arbol

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Mexican is one of my all-time favourite styles of cooking. It’s earthy, flavourful and uses lots of my favourite ingredients – beans, peppers, tomatoes, cheese – and chilies of course.

And my passion for Mexican cooking has a long history. chili-0344-wr It began in the 1970s, with a visit to a little bistro in my home town in the south of England. The wooden tables were lit by tall red candles in raffia-decorated chianti bottles, layered with wax from previous evenings. From the menu I chose the very exotic sounding Chili-Con-Carne to go with our fresh bottle of Chianti.  A big bowl of spicy mince and dark red kidney beans was placed before me, accompanied by a crispy-skinned baked potato. At a time, and place, when seasoning meant gravy, and green peppers (let alone kidney beans) were unheard of, this was a culinary new experience.   The Chili-Con-Carne was truly delicious –  a wonderful mix of rich, savoury beef and earthy beans in a dark, spicy, chili sauce that had my nose running.

Fast forward a few (!) years and cooking with chilies has taken on a whole new life. You can now buy a huge variety of different types of chili in the UK,  and as well as chilies of different heat values, you can also enjoy chilies with great depth of flavour – cue the Mexican chilies.

And one of the most popular Mexican chilies is the chipotle.DSCN1144_2 The chipotle is a smoked -dried Jalapeno chili. It’s a medium-heat chili, with a unique smoked, tobacco flavour. Jalapenos are dried in a wood-smoke chamber over a few days to create the unique chipotle. These flavour-rich chilies are used in Mexican stews, sauces and salsas. If you’re looking for rich, smokey flavour to add to a bit of heat, then the chipotle is worth seeking out.

Which brings me back to the original idea for my post – how to prepare a dried chipotle chili:

A dried chipotle chili looks a bit – well – dry. It’s hard to imagine its flavour from its somewhat wrinkled, papery exterior. It looks and smells more like an expensive empty cigar.  But just soak the dried chipotle in hot (just boiled) water for 25 minutes and it rehydrates to enable you to chop it and add it to your dish.

Once it’s softened with the water, chop it finely, then add to your chosen dish – use in slow-cooked dishes like beef and pork chilies, which allow the smokey flavours to develop and the chipotle to soften.

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Chipotle chilies are a natural choice for bbq cooking too – add a little chopped chipotle to your marinating chicken for extra smokey flavour and heat.

I’ll be revisiting the world of chili over the next few months – we’ve got chili plants just beginning to grow on the windowsill, and lots of ideas for chili sauces and dishes to experiment with.

If you love chilies, whether it’s growing, cooking or eating them – please share your thoughts!

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