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Divas: What’s all the fuss about Hatch chilies?

Have you seen the big roasters outside grocery stores? And the giddy, salivating people who can’t wait to get their fresh roasted box of steamy, smoky green chiles?

Here’s what the fuss is about – It’s Hatch Chile Season! This is an annual tradition unique to the Southwest. Extremely popular, particularly in New Mexico and Texas and I’m thrilled we enjoy it here, too.

What the heck is a Hatch? Hatch chiles are slender, green chile peppers that look like an Anaheim chile that’s been to Weight Watchers. Named after the town of Hatch, New Mexico, the only region where they’re grown. Chile-heads get excited about “the season” because these peppers are only available for a few weeks from August to early September.

Hatch chiles are the perfect chile-loving balance of flavor and heat. They taste very harsh raw so they are nearly always roasted. Flame-roasting creates caramelization of sugars, which adds a tantalizing smoky flavor to the chile. That’s why people are doing the happy dance in front of Smith’s.

Hatch chiles come in three levels of heat; mild, medium and hot. The hot is really hot! I suggest choosing mild because it works in so many recipes.

I got a box, now what do I do? Respect the pepper! Capsicum is an irritant to skin and eyes. You must take precautions. Before you touch the peppers – remove your contact lenses, wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt. Have a sink of warm soapy water ready to wash everything that comes in contact with the peppers. Don’t touch your face or eyes or anything delicate (ahem) with your peppery gloves. You’ll never forget it if you do.

Once the peppers have cooled, the blistered skin will easily pull off the chile with an occasional helpful rinse in water. Open the pepper and scrape the seeds out with a spoon. Discard the seeds.

Now the peppers are ready to be enjoyed but a box is a lot of peppers. Thankfully, they freeze beautifully.

To keep the best flavor, freeze them as soon as possible after roasting, ideally within a couple of hours. You can freeze whole peppers without peeling them but I recommend doing it so they’re recipe ready.

To avoid your peppers turning into mush they must freeze quickly as slow freezing causes ice crystals. Place them in shallow layers and freeze. Place cup measures of frozen peppers in zippered freezer bags, squeeze the air out and seal. Freeze flat and stack to save space. Peppers can be stored safely in the freezer for 12-18 months.

What can you do with Hatch chiles? In Southwest cuisine green chile is so popular you find it in practically everything, even desserts. You can make salsa, put them in cheeseburgers, pizza, burritos, soups, stews, casseroles, egg dishes, baked into bread, the list goes on and on. For recipes, go to my website – http://divasonadime.com/ and subscribe to my weekly newsletter while you’re there.

If you enjoy the flavor of chiles, then your favorite part of the season will be eating them with everything. Down the hatch! I couldn’t resist.

Fabulous Food contributed by Patti Diamond from Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous! NEW website and blog – www.divasonadime.com Join us on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom.

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