Wild chili peppers – © Elisabetta Giacon 2020 – – By now I am sure, those of us who followed updated TV and radio news about the Corona Virus Scare, and those who received stay-well calls or messages from all over the world, will agree with me; we need a break from bad news in order to focus on something else to do and think…
We understood! We are to stay home. We are to be cautious. We are to be patient. We are to be cautiously optimistic. If possible, we are to keep fit with indoor gym equipment. We are to wear a mask and possibly gloves. We are to wash hands as often as possible. We are to keep social distance. We are to try to keep a clean home by using bleach and or diluted or pure rubbing alcohol, which seems to have gained in value more and more every day. We are to keep busy with constructive activities. We are to drink hot healthy drinks and we are to eat healthy.
So for these reasons, to cook healthy and hearty, I decided to face my spice rack for home made Mole Negro and Texas style chili. Both specialties are spicy and might give us indeed a better chance to fight that virus.
ABOUT CHILI PEPPERS OR CHILES, CHILI CON CARNE, AMERICAN AND TEXAS-STYLE CHILI AND CHILI POWDER.
Early chili peppers, called “Chilli” in Nahuatl language and chiles in Mexico, grew wild and bird berry sized way before the birth of Christ. They became staple from South to North America and were brought to Europe in the XVI century. Chili peppers first arrived to Europe with the returning Spaniards after Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the “New World” in 1492-1493. For centuries these fruits of the Capsicum plant, called by the Spanish Conquistadors “chiles”, have been growing throughout the world in many sizes and shades of color; ranging from yellow to red and purple. Their flavor and pungency now vary also from fruity to grassy and from fiery pungent to mildly sweet.
Chili peppers were described in the 1492-1493 log book of the First Spanish Admiral. They were found everywhere on the large market of Tenochtitlan when Cortes entered the Aztec capital in 1519. The Native Aztecs still believed Cortes to be the returning Quetzalcoatl god.
With the arrival of the Spanish galleons entering Mexican ports from the Philippines, for example, loaded with Asian spices, chili peppers which were used generally by Aztecs in religious and special ceremonies, became a household staple ingredient for making Mexican gravy sauces called MOLES. From Mexico always with the Spanish, chili peppers moved to Lone Star Texas, to Asia, and to Europe.
PUNGENT OR SWEET CHILI PEPPERS – THE SCOVILLE HEAT UNIT SCALE
In time, because of local soil and climatic conditions, the fruits of the Capsicum plant have grown and shown to deviate from the very ancient established pungency and flavor scale. In 1912 Wilbur Scoville, an American pharmacologist with Parke Davis, an American drug company which planned to use chilies in body creams to treat skin disorders, put together a Scoville Heat Unit Scale for an organoleptic test which measured how humans react to various chili peppers. Later in 1980, James Woodbury, an American research technician working for Cal Compack Foods, developed another system to evaluate the pungency of chili peppers. His Alex Model 322 worked as a high pressure liquid chromatography system (The Whole Chile Pepper Book by De Witt and Gerlach; 1990, Little Brown and Company; p. 240-244).
Scoville’s Heat Unit Scale is still used today to help cooks, chefs, merchants, chili pepper growers who wish to identify and calibrate the pungency of these more or less pungent and very useful antibacterial fruits rich in vitamin C.
With the help of modern growing techniques supported by diverse commercial and culinary preferences various chili peppers have developed and grown with different grades of spiciness. Among the most fiery and pungent chili peppers today are, for example, the wrinkled HABANERO peppers which measures between 500.000 and 300.000 SHU [Scoville Heat Units]; the least hot of peppers are commonly called SWEET PEPPERS which measure between 100 and 0 SHU and very often roasted in Italy and served as appetizers.
For the purpose of the mole recipe which follows here, please keep in mind that, with experience, you can tailor your mole according to your taste and heat tolerance, and that, the dry New Mexico, also called Anaheim, the Ancho, the Pasilla Negro are in the category of mildly hot chili peppers with 2.500-1.000 SHU and the Chile de Arbol and the Serrano are known to be among the hot chili peppers which measure between 30.000 – 5.000 SHU (with variances based on whether they are fresh or dried).
Throughout the international farmer’s market world, commonly found are also the little Serrano peppers, which vary in heat from 30.000 to 5.000 SHU, the medium hot Jalapeno, with its grassy flavor and the smokey dark Chipotle, both with a pungency which ranges between 10.000 and 2.500 SHU depending on where they were grown and how much water and sun they had while growing.
HOW TO PREPARE AT HOME A MOLE NEGRO SAUCE [Adapted from a National Museum of American History recipe]
1/2 each New Mexican dried chili pepper, trimmed [2.500 – 1.000 SHU]
1/2 each Ancho chili pepper, trimmed [2.500 – 1.000 SHU]
1/2 each Pasilla Negro chili pepper, trimmed [2.500 – 1.000 SHU]
1/2 each Chili Arbol, trimmed [30.000 – 15.000 SHU – if Chili Arbol is not available substitute with Serrano]
1 quart rendered pork fat or vegetable oil
1 clove garlic mashed
1/4 cup diced onion
3 oz Mexican Corona beer
3 corn tortillas
1/8 of a bunch of fresh stemless cilantro, coarsely chopped (in Mexican Mole Negro paste is prepared with fresh leaves of Yerba Santa)
2 Tablespoons roasted sun flower seeds
1 oz unsweetened Mexican style chocolate
to taste kosher salt (coarse salt)
2 oz tomato paste
In a sauce pan, toast the chili peppers with their seeds until they release their aroma. Add the onion, the garlic, the pork fat, the tomato paste and the beer and bring to a boil. Stir, reduce to a simmer, add the shredded or crumbled tortillas, the roasted sunflower seeds and simmer for about 1 hour stirring occasionally. Add the fresh stemless cilantro, the chocolate and season with the salt. Puree or blend until the sauce is smooth. Use with roasted loin of pork or over turkey cutlets.
ABOUT CILANTRO AND YERBA SANTA: Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), also called fresh coriander, or coriandolo fresco in Italian, used in this Mole Negro substitutes Yerba Santa (Piper auritum and Piper sanctum), also called Hoja Santa, Acuyo, or Anisillo. Yerba Santa is a heart shaped green leaf growing around Oaxaca, Mexico, which is hardly found outside the region. Outside the region, it might be growing in private gardens tended usually only by Mexicans. Besides being used in moles, the leaves of Yerba Santa, which have a slight root beer flavor, are also used around Oaxaca to wrap appetizers, such as morsels of cheese, or shrimps.
ATTENTION – IF YOUR MOUTH BURNS WITH THE FIRE OF CHILI PEPPERS:
If your mouth burns with the fire of chili peppers: drink a glass of milk or yogurt. If your Texan style chili is too spicy, top or add to it sour cream, or grated cheddar cheese, like they do in Wisconsin. Keep in mind – Seeds are the spiciest part of the chili pepper.
TEXAS STYLE CHILI WITH CHILI POWDER, MEXICAN OREGANO, GARLIC, ONION AND… WITH OR WITHOUT BEANS?
There is still an old culinary dispute unresolved between Mexican and Texan chili cooks. Both Texans and Mexicans living along the Rio Grande claim to have been the first creators of a dish called Chili or Chiles con Carne (Chili peppers with meat). However, it was after 1842 that the dark thick red soupy more or less pungent Texan Long Horn beef stew took over San Antonio Texas and throughout the region. The dish found special impetus the German speaking emigrant Gebhard opened a store in Braunfels, Texas and sold to cowboys and vaqueros his chili powder mix.
He had prepared a pre-mixed powder with dried and ground ANCHO chili peppers, cumin and Mexican oregano. For the wagon cooks Gebahard’s chili powder enhanced the stew prepared with locally raised Long Horn beef meat cooked slowly for several hours until the stirring spoon stuck straight out of the stew or collapsed slowly into the meat which ended being spicy and tender. Easy food for cattle herders! Curiously enough, Gebhard’s premixed chili powder sold to vaqueros who traveled along cattle drives as far as Montana was very similar to the spice mix used by Hungarian herders to cook their Gulyas also called Gulasch or Goulash. Goulash had been prepared in Austria’s dominated Hungary by sheep herders with a paprika mix since the 16th century. Mutton or sheep or beef stewed together with ground dried paprika, garlic, caraway and marjoram. So, what dish was created first? Chile con Carne, Hungarian Goulyas or Texas’s Bowl of Red? Go figure! We have plenty of time to find out while we cook and stay at home in quarantine!
ABOUT CUMIN AND CARAWAY: Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) called comino in Italian, and caraway (Carum carvi), known as Kummel or Cumino Tedesco in Italian, look very much alike, but have not the same flavor!!! Both plants belong to the European parsley family. Cumin was brought to Mexico with the Spaniards, and caraway, the little seed, was used by Europeans and North African since pyramid times but especially by Northern Europeans for their cabbage dishes, in their rye breads or in the famous Northern European Aquavit.
AMERICAN REGIONAL CHILI VERSIONS IN THE UNITED STATES, CHILI COOK OFFS, AND CHILI ASSOCIATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES
After the 19th century, like prairie wild fire, the taste of chili spread from Texas throughout the United States of America. Regional chili cook offs became rapidly the fun thing to do and the most effective of fundraising events. Groups of chili fans and chili associations sprang up all over the nation. Chili cooks in Wisconsin begun preparing chili with beans, elbow macaroni, and cheddar cheese. Chili cooks in Ohio felt the need to add cinnamon and spaghetti cut ups. Californian cook offs loved to drum up people with vegetarian chili.
In 1951, out of Terlingua, Texas, the CHILI APPRECIATION SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL or C.A.S.I was born. Founders had been George Haddaway and one Jim Fuller who organized and supported a great 1967 C.A.S.I. event which gathered several interesting characters, including an ALLEN SMITH, cartoonist, food commentator and book author, and one WICK FOWLER who had practiced cooking for the American troupes in Vietnam. Both were considered true CHILI HEADS. For the association members were CHILI HEADS. A group of chili heads made up a CHILI POD. The president was known to be the GREAT PEPPER, the vice president the VICE PEPPER, the treasurer the CHILI PENNY and the secretary was called the CHILI SCRIBE.
More than 100 members gathered in Terlingua, Texas, for that first C.A.S.I. Chili Cook-off where everything was about cooking chili and winning the first price. Based on C.A.S.I. history, the first round of the cook off ended in a draw and the second round also because the ballot box was stolen by a masked man with a gun. To compete in the hope to win WICK FOWLER used a secret chili recipe.
To compete again in the 1970 at the Chili Cook Off of Terlingua, Texas, Wick Fowler brought his secret chili mix. He called it WICK FOWLER’S 2 ALARM CHILI. According to the Official Cookbook of the International Chili Society WICK FOWLER’s chili mix and chili recipe were a great success. After his win, Wick Fowler’s mix recipe was purchased by Procter and Gamble commercial food giant. In 1990 the chili kit was sold to Luzianne and is still distributed today in supermarkets.
TEXAS STYLE BEEF CHILI – ACCORDING TO WICK FOWLER’S RECIPE
This recipe serves 4
2 lbs diced beef
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes
2 cups water
1 package of Wick Fowler’s 2 Alarm Chili Seasoning
1 cup water stirred up with 2 Tbsp of masa harina or corn meal (fine polenta flour will also do)
In a chili pot, brown the beef in oil until it is no longer pink. If necessary drain the fat. Add the tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes, the water and the chili seasoning. Cover and simmer for approximately 20-25 minutes. To thicken the chili add the masa (or polenta) water and simmer for additional 20 minutes while stirring occasionally.
If you don’t have access to Wick Fowler’s 2 Alarm Chili Seasoning – make your own chili seasoning:
Use 3 Tablespoons of dried ground New Mexico chili pepper [2.500 – 1.000 SHU], 1 Tablespoon of sweet Hungarian paprika, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano flakes, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of dehydrated garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of cayenne powder.
CHILI SEASONING MIXES, CHILI POWDERS, CHILI KITS
There are several chili seasoning mixes on today’s market. Their formulas vary according to American regional preferences and the commercial enterprise of Americans. Some mixes are prepared for mild chilies, some for a fiery hot chili, others include instructions on how to regulate the pungency of the dish with more or less added chili fire or spice. There are also kits which call for the addition of tomato sauce to the beef cubes, others for the use of tomato paste, and others which direct the home cook to add beans. And, finally, there is the all around commercially sold so called Chili Powder, a hearty blend of chili pepper and spices used in Mexican and Texas style dishes such as Chili con Carne and Texan Chili.
OLD SAN ANTONIO TEXAS CHILI RECIPE – ADAPTED ACCORDING TO ONE VERSION OF TEXAS FOOD HISTORY
2 lbs Long Horn beef shoulder, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, dredged in flour
1 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, dredged in flour
1/4 cup suet
1/4 cup pork fat
3 medium onions, trimmed, peeled, and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1 quart water
4 seedless Ancho peppers, chopped fine [2.500-1.000 SHU]
1 fresh seedless Serrano pepper, chopped fine [10.000 – 23.000 SHU]
6 red dried seedless New Mexico peppers, chopped fine [500 – 2.500 SHU]
1 Tbsp ground cumin seeds
2 Tbsp dried stemless Mexican oregano
Salt to taste (approx. 1 tsp)
In the chili pot, heat the fat and brown the cubes of meat. Add the onion and the garlic and saute them until limp. If necessary drain the fat. Add the water and simmer for approximately 1 hour while stirring occasionally. Grind or blend the peppers. Add these to the meat. Add the cumin, the Mexican oregano and salt and simmer for 1 more hour. Taste for salt and flavor. If necessary, add chili powder. Serve with corn bread and good Texas beer such as a bottle of 12 oz Shiner Bock.
ABOUT MEXICAN OREGANO (Lippia graveolens): Native of Mexico this “oregano” is not the Mediterranean oregano. It has a similar but more delicate scent than the Italian herb. It belongs to a plant family which includes also the Verbena and has a slight lemony flavor.
CHILI PEPPERS IN MEXICO, IN USA AND IN ITALY FOR TEXAS STYLE CHILI? – ATTENTION READ CAREFULLY – DO NOT USE THE LAST TWO CHILI PEPPERS MENTIONED!!!!
After the 16th century, and since the spreading of chili peppers in Europe and Italy, many chili peppers were grown in Italy and became available from Italian growers and plant nurseries. To the very known and hot HABANERO , to the medium hot JALAPENO, to the mild PASILLA and to the very mild PAPRIKA also other others were made available on the Italian chili pepper market: the Peruvian ULUPICA [100.000 – 300.000 SHU], the ROCOTO [50.000 – 100.000 SHU] and the AJI [30.000 – 50.000 SHU]; Louisiana’s TABASCO [30.000 – 50.000] and New Mexico’s BIG JIM [1.500 – 3.000 SHU]; the Mexican CAYENNE [30.000 – 50.000 SHU]; the Italian Calabrian DIAVOLICCHIO DI DIAMANTE [40.000 – 50.000 SHU] and two horribly pungent peppers: the Asian NAGA MORICH [876.000 – 970.000 SHU] and the absolutely non edible weird-shaped possibly deadly TRINIDAD MORUGA SKORPION [1.500.000 – 2.000.000 SHU].
MAIL ORDERS FOR MOLE CHOCOLATE, CHILI POWDERS AND POWDERED CHILI PEPPERS:
FOR MOLE CHOCOLATE, CHILI POWDERS AND POWDERED CHILI PEPPERS:
contact Mayordomo in Mexico at https://chocolatemayordomo.com.mx/producto/mole-negro/ and PENZEY’S in the USA at https://www.penzeys.com/search/#?q=chili%20powder
BOOKS AND POSTER IN USA AND ITALY:
THE WHOLE CHILE PEPPER BOOK by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach – With over 180 hot and spicy recipes. Paper back, 370 pages, b/w and color photographs and drawings. Published first in 1990 by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto London.
HOT AND SPICY CHILI by Dave DeWitt, Jane Wilan and Melissa Stock – A Collection of 150 of the very Best Chili Recipes from the Chili Capitals of America. Paper back, 266 pages, b/w text and no photographs. Published in 1994 by PRIMA PUBLISHING, P.O. Box 1260 BK, Rocklin, CA 95677, Tel. (916) 632 4400.
PEPERONCINO AMORE MIO by Enzo Monaco – Storia, Botanica, Medicina, Gastronomia, Segreti e Misteri della Spezia piu’ Amata del Mondo. Paper back, 334 pages, color photographs and drawings. Published first in 2014 by Rubbettino Editore, 88048 Soveria Mannelli, Viale Rosario Rubbettino, 10; tel. 08968 6664201 – http://www.rubbettino.it
POSTER – VIVERE IL SAPERE PEPERONCINI – Scuola Professionale per l’Agricoltura ed Economia Domestica Salern – by Dott. Martin Frick – Scala di Piccantezza – Published by Autonome Provinz Bozen – Suedtirol, Abteilung 22 – Land Forst und Hauswirtschaftliche Berufsbildung – Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano – Alto Adige, Ripartizione 22 – Formazione professionale agricola, forestale e di economia domestica; In color 11 x 16 inch – 28 x 41 cm.