Saturday, September 12, 2015


Hot stuff! Several types of chile peppers.

I’m always surprised to see renditions of Spanish recipes by Americans, both chefs and home cooks, that include chile peppers in one form or another—Mexican salsa, cayenne, jalapeños—whereas, in Spain, the chile is hardly used at all! It’s as if Americans have just gotta have the extra punch of spicy-hot.

A few weeks ago, Russ Parsons wrote about gazpacho in the Los Angeles Times’ food section. Here’s what he says: “My version is based on a version I learned from Spanish cookbook writer Janet Mendel, though I doubt she'd recognize it, what with the addition of the harissa and the goat cheese cream. Maybe she'll just chalk it up to me spending too much time in the sun.” (Read the story here.)

Oh, I recognize Russ’s gazpacho—best farmers market tomatoes, olive oil, bread as a thickener. Then he adds harissa, a hot chile paste. Harissa? Really?

Gazpacho with harissa? Try it!
I decided to give it a try. Hey, I like that! The harissa—only a teaspoon or so—gives the gazpacho some bite, while, if not characteristically Spanish, goes well with the tomato-garlic-green pepper flavors. (I am less enthusiastic about the dollop of goat cheese cream to finish the gazpacho because the heavy cream seems in conflict with the olive oil of the gazpacho.)

Spain, of course, “discovered” the chile, capsicum pepper, in the New World and introduced it to the Old World. While the chile found its way into the cuisines of North Africa, India, Southeast Asia, China, in Spain it was the milder versions that left their mark—sweet pimentón (paprika), In Spain, “salsa” means any “sauce,” not the chile-spiked relish that accompanies Mexican-style foods.

Guindillas--dried red chiles.
Baby eels with garlic and chile.
In Spain, the word for hot chile (or, as Brits spell it, chilli) is “guindilla” or “pimiento picante.”  Guindillas can be the tiny dried red peppers (not sure of the variety--cayenne or pequin) that, with sliced garlic,  go into gambas al ajillo, shrimp sizzled with garlic, and angulas al pil pil, baby eels sizzled in olive oil with sliced garlic and flecks of chile. (The ones shown in the photo are fake eels made of  surimi fish paste.)

Pickled guindillas.

Guindillas also are the mild green pickled peppers that Basques serve alongside bean dishes or as an aperitif such as the Gilda (guindilla speared on a toothpick with olive and anchovy)..

Chile is essential in Spanish preparations such as snails, stewed tripe and the spice blend for pinchitos morunos, mini-kebabs with Moorish spices. And, truth be told, not much else.

In my own kitchen, when I want spicy-hot foods, I cook Thai or Indian, maybe Mexican or creole. I keep prepared hot sauce on hand—Tabasco (made in Louisiana), harissa (this brand is made in Tunisia) and sambal oelek (Indonesian, although this brand comes from Holland). Harissa—I call it “Moroccan ketchup”—is really good squeezed on a burger. And, mixed into gazpacho too.

Red Beans, Basque Style
Alubias Rojas a la Vasca

Red beans with chorizo and potatoes are garnished with pickled peppers.

Basque cooks say you have to asustar the beans--give them a “scare” with cold water several times during cooking. It’s also important to make sure they always are covered with some liquid, so the skins don’t split. I cheated. I cooked the potatoes, vegetables and chorizo in water, then added the contents of a jar of already-cooked beans.

Serves 4.

1 pound red or pinto beans, washed
Ham bone (optional)
1 large carrot, peeled and cut in chunks
2 bay leaves
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, chopped
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon salt
¼ pound chorizo sausage
Cooked cabbage (optional)
Sliced red onion (optional)
Guindillas (pickled green chilies)

Put the beans in a soup pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Add the ham bone, if using, carrot, bay leaves, pepper and onion. Bring the water to a boil and add the oil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for one hour.

Add 1 cup cold water. Cook another 30 minutes.

Add 1 cup cold water. Add the sliced leek, potatoes, salt and chorizo. Bring to a full boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook another 30 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Serve the beans accompanied by cooked cabbage and onions, as desired, and pickled green chilies.

Green Pepper Relish

Jalapeño peppers, both green and red.

I’m growing a few jalapeño plants in big pots this year. They produce more peppers than I can use fresh, so I freeze them in plastic zip bags to use all year round. I used jalapeños and green bell peppers from the garden to make this hot green pepper relish that I first tasted last summer while in Louisiana. It’s piquant, tangy and sweet, goes well with chicken, pork or lamb or as a topping for toasts with cream cheese. (The sugar can be replaced with stevia, a non-caloric sweetener. Use 2 teaspoons white stevia powder for 1 cup of sugar.)

Use rubber gloves to cut up chile peppers to avoid “burning” skin. 

Green pepper relish.
10-12 green bell peppers
2-4 jalapeño peppers or other green chile
3 onions
3 cloves garlic
Boiling water
1 ½ cups vinegar
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon celery seeds

Remove stems and seeds from peppers and cut into chunks. Peel onions and garlic and coarsely chop onions. Grind peppers, onion and garlic in a food processor. Place the chopped vegetables in a heat-proof bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Allow to soak for 10 minutes. Drain.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds and celery seeds in a pan. Bring to a boil. Add the pepper-onion mix and cook for 15 minutes.

Ladle the relish into hot sterile jars and seal. If relish is to be kept, process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. Otherwise, allow to cool, then store the relish in the refrigerator. Keeps up to 2 months.

Spread cream cheese on mini-toasts, top with spoonful of green pepper relish. Sprinkle with pimentón picante (hot paprika).

Guindillas rojas--fresh red chiles.

I'm not sure how I'll use those fresh red chiles. Maybe try a fermented hot sauce, or maybe thread them on string and let them dry. One year, I garlanded the Christmas tree with brilliant red chiles.


  1. Hi Janet,
    How interesting to see your article on peppers. I just moved from WA State to NM 4 wks. ago and EVERYONE puts red or green chilis (or "Christmas", meaning both) on everything. Slowly I am becoming a big fan of "the green", as it's called.
    But, I must say, your gazpacho recipe is the best I've ever had and make it often.

    Recently you talked about the difficulty of getting the pinon nut out of the husk. That is because thy were not yet ripe. Next week a friend from here is going with his family to collect pinons and they just give the branches a little shake and the nuts fall into their baskets when fully ripe. They are going to bring me some! Can't wait. Question though, are they ready to eat or do they need to be roasted first?
    What is the best way to store them?
    Thanks for your wonderful website.

    Patty Simek (remember me?)

  2. Patty: Of course I remember you! Hola to New Mexico. Getting the piñon out of the pine cone is not the hard part--it's cracking those itty-bitty pine-nut shells and extracting the teensy kernel whole. Once shelled, you can use them without toasting, as in pesto, or toast them and use as garnish (add to spinach with pine nuts and raisins). Store them in a dry, cool place still in their shells. Or, if shelled, freeze them. If they get wet and warm, they'll start to sprout!

  3. Hello. I cannot find can chopped green chiles ( not hot please) to make keto enchilada. Do you know where can I find that in Spain? Or what name? Because I bought jalapeños and omg so hot , no way.

  4. reina cotilla: Canned green chiles are not a usual product in Spain. How about substituting red pimiento? Or, roast green bell peppers, peel and chop=green (not hot) chile.