Seasonal Eats: Capture the Spice of Summer with Jalapeños!

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Red & Green Jalapeños and Orange Habañeros at the Farmer's Market (Heather Parlato/LAist)

Late summer is a great time for capsicum peppers of all types, from mild bell peppers to hot chili peppers like jalapeños and habañeros. Since peppers are such a large family with so many different uses, today we'll look at hot peppers and how you can use them seasonally and then save them to use year-round.

Jalapeño peppers are the most common hot peppers sold in local farmer's markets. They can be either green and red. These peppers come from Mexico and tend to do well all over the southwestern United States. Jalapeños can range from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units. The heat of the chili oil makes them strongly anti-inflammatory, which is great for keeping your immune system healthy. Jalapeños are also a good source of riboflavin, niacin, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, K and B6, thiamin, folate, potassium, copper and manganese.

When working with hot peppers, you should know that the heat is in the oil, which may irritate your skin and scorch your eyes, nose and mouth, if you're not careful. I don't personally work with gloves, but if you're not sure where you fall on the chili sensitivity meter, you might want to. Fair warning: soap and water doesn't usually kill the heat on the first pass, so handle with care.

For adding spice to salads or salad dressing, try a summery quinoa salad with corn, tomatoes, avocado and lime or spice up your greens with something like jalapeño lime vinaigrette. Prepare a jalapeño garlic sauce for meat or chicken, or try this jalapeño sunflower seed pesto for pasta or steamed vegetables.

Chopped fresh peppers add a spicy bite to any chopped vegetable salad, salsa cruda, guacamole or blended gazpacho. Here are some refreshing summer treats: avocado and yogurt dip with jalapeño and cilantro, or south-of-the-border coleslaw with cilantro and jalapeño, or even lemon-lime, corn and jalapeño relish.

For side dishes or soups, beans spice up nicely with the addition of hot peppers. Bring smoky barbecue beans with jalapeño to your end-of-summer cookouts, make up some jalapeño black-eyed peas to round out a southern-style meal or have yourself a tasty bowl of black bean soup with cumin and jalapeño. And don't forget to make up some cornbread to go with it, maybe jalapeño jack cornbread this time around?

To add chili peppers to your meals, throw them in where you know you like them or take cues from some of these great ideas. For seafood steamers, we've got clams with jalapeño, lemon and basil or mussels with tomatoes, jalapeño and tequila. Try out a Thai shrimp soup with lemons and jalapeños for a local version of a Thai favorite. For anyone who loves ceviche, add as much as you like with your final round of lime juice, or try this mahi mahi ceviche with jalapeños and coconut.

Another favorite for the spice of jalapeños is chicken! Combine sweet and spicy for Pat's chicken with peaches and jalapeños, or rescue some tequila from an otherwise margarita-related fate and have tequila-glazed chicken with jalapeño.

Alcohol dissolves and extracts the oil, and you can prepare a spicy liquor in no time, for spicy-cool blood orange-jalapeño margaritas. For a spicy take on comfort food, try this shepherd's pie with jalapeño-pea purée. And when it's time for dessert, follow it up with jalapeño cornbread whoopie pies with honey-buttercream.

While I love to enjoy them fresh, one of my favorite late summer projects involves roasting peppers and cooking salsas and hot pepper sauces to store for the cold season. This red and green jalapeño jelly makes a festive holiday gift. Skip buying cans or jars of packed peppers and pack your own pickled jalapeños fresh from the farm or garden! Or make your own approximation of chipotle sauce by smoking your peppers over coals with hickory or mesquite chips and cook your own hot sauce. Last year, I made 3-alarm smoked chili pepper salsa without even using the seeds, but this year everything went in and I've got enough to last till next summer at least.

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3-Alarm Smoked Chili Pepper Salsa (Heather Parlato/LAist)

3-Alarm Smoked Chili Pepper Salsa

Ingredients:

10 medium red jalapeños
 (or to taste)

5 medium habañeros


1 medium onion


4 cloves garlic, 2 minced
 and 2 crushed

16 oz. crushed tomatoes


2 tbs. olive oil


4 tbs. white balsamic, white wine or cider vinegar


2 tbs. balsamic vinegar


2 tbs. sugar


1 tsp. salt

Equipment: 
charcoal briquettes, hickory chips, charcoal BBQ grill, rubber gloves

Light your charcoal briquettes in your BBQ. While they light and heat up, soak hickory chips in a bowl of water about 20 minutes. When the briquettes are lit, spread them out, sprinkle some hickory chips over them and put your grill in place.

Put your selection of chili peppers on the grill, turning as needed as they char on all sides (this is made easier by spearing them on bamboo skewers). Add hickory chips as needed and cover the grill so the smoke flavor can infuse into the chilies. They are ready when all sides are charred and they appear partly wilted and cooked through, which can vary greatly depending on the heat of your grill.

While the chilies are smoking, add the olive oil to a saucepan and simmer the chopped onion on medium heat until translucent. Add the minced garlic and simmer 5 minutes more. Add the crush tomatoes and simmer uncovered until reduced and thickened, about 30 minutes.

When the chilies are ready, take them to the kitchen and put on your rubber gloves if you're using them. Slice each pepper lengthwise, cut the stem off around the top and scrape the seeds with the blade of your knife into a bowl. you can reserve the seeds to add if you'd like to increase the heat later. Chop the smoked chilies roughly and add to the tomato mixture, simmer on medium 10 more minutes.

Allow your salsa to cool or work in small batches. Puree the salsa mixture with the balsamic vinegar, remaining wine/cider vinegar, crushed garlic, sugar and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference, including reserved chili pepper seeds, if desired.