The thrills of the first-of-the season swims and outdoor barbeques leave with June and soon become daily routine. The joys of July’s family reunions, pot-lucks, and vacations quickly pass. By the time August rolls around summer’s monotony is in full swing. The start of the school year is looming and the heat is beginning to take its toll. On the surface this poor month does not have much to offer. August could quickly pass by with no fanfare were it not for…Hatch Pepper season. Yes, as someone born and bred in the Southwest, jalapenos, cilantro, adobo sauce, and the mighty hatch pepper run in my blood and make August a time to treasure. The pungent aroma of roasting peppers sets my mouth watering and my mind churning with ways to put this year’s crop to the best use.
Of course, once those big burlap bags arrive at my local BB site, the intimidation factor may start to set in. All my great plans for those peppers come with a commitment. Hatch peppers have a very short season and I like their flavor tossed in lots of different dishes all year long, so preserving is important. (Besides, no matter how much like ’em, I know I can’t get through 25 lbs before they go bad.)
My first step is always roasting the peppers. This can be done either on the grill or in the oven. As hubby is the grill-master in our house our roasting method is determined by his schedule. When he grills, the peppers are laid out on the grill over medium heat and turned until they are charred all over. If I’m using the oven I preheat to 450 and place the peppers on baking sheets lined with foil. They roast for about 10 mins on the first side and then I turn them. They don’t blacken as they would when grilled, but they do change color and blister up.
When they’re done I put the hot, roasted peppers into grocery sacks and tie them up tight so that the peppers steam. This could also be done in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap. Then, I put them (with the skins still on) into freezer safe bags, seal up, and toss in the freezer. I honestly don’t know how long these stay good- every year I try for a “year’s supply” but I use them up within 6 months. I have never tried canning the peppers but now that I have a new pressure canner I think I’m going to attempt it this year. (Maybe those will stick around longer, but I doubt it.)
Once the peppers are roasted it is time for the fun part…Cooking. Our first round of hatch peppers is always celebrated with a big pan of my Green Enchiladas. I blend a good portion of roasted, peeled, seeded peppers with a big bunch of cilantro and some tomatillos. In a stock pot I cook up some chopped onion and garlic until it is soft and translucent and then pour the sauce in. At this point I taste for heat. It’s hard to know what level of heat the peppers have so I season accordingly. I like some extra flavor so I sprinkle in some cumin and chili powder. If the sauce is too spicy I stir in some sour cream. I set aside a couple cups of the sauce and then, mix shredded chicken with the sauce in the pot and let that cook for a few minutes. The chicken mix goes into tortillas and is topped with sauce, cheese, and chopped tomatoes, olives, cilantro and green onions. (as a side note- I use my frozen hatch peppers to make this with leftover turkey the day after Thanksgiving. When someone asked my hubby what his favorite Thanksgiving food was he said “The Enchiladas”)
Last year I created the Hatch Pepper Pasta Salad and it was a HUGE hit. I blended up some hatch peppers, cilantro, and mayo, and sprinkled in cumin and chili powder. I tossed together cooked GF corn pasta (any pasta would work but I actually prefer the extra flavor of the corn for this), and lots of fun veggies. Just before serving I folded in the pepper sauce and freshly chopped cilantro. Everyone enjoyed this spicy, flavorful salad.
Even when we are not lucky enough to get Hatch peppers as an add-on option, we generally see them pop up in our baskets during the season. I’ve come up with a couple of quick, versatile, easy ways to use up just a handful of peppers. My Caramelized Onion Pepper Dip and Hatch Pepper Butter recipes are especially great for those times when you want the flavor of the peppers but don’t necessarily want a full Southwestern meal.
Hatch peppers are such a versatile flavorful ingredient. I can’t wait to taste the dishes that come from this year’s haul, as I strive to keep the summer heat burning all year long.