Food for Thought

Time to Hatch a plan

It’s over.

No need to shed tears; it won’t help. Similarly, a barrage of irate letters, each signed with a clever nom de plume, will serve no productive purpose.

It is the end of a great ride; time to unbuckle the seat belt, leave the car and exit the platform.

Case closed.

I came to this realization while I was in the bathroom.

There are two publications that, for me, are best suited to the most meaningful time and place to catch up on my light reading.

In the bathroom, while I’m perched on the can.

For me, it’s been all about O and Martha Stewart Living. There is a time and place for Claude Levi-Strauss and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (or any other French guy with a hyphenated name), but this ain’t it.

It’s gotta be Oprah or Martha.

Love ’em.

My number-one bathroom buddies.

Or, should I say, they used to be my best bathroom buddies. One has fallen swiftly from grace.

Saturday morning, what began as a typical, gratifying ten minutes, was utterly destroyed by Martha.

I cannot recall a worse bathroom experience. Well, let me qualify that: I cannot think of a worse bathroom reading experience. I left the hallowed space a depleted soul.

Martha put some very bad mojo on my ethnic-food favorite. She blitzed one of the main fixtures in my culinary life, doomed it to extinction.

A once-great, kind-of-exclusive food of the Southwest, has been released to the big, wide foodie world — a world, as we all know, peopled by avaricious, look-at-me, trend suckers with way too much money to spend on things they don’t truly understand. They latch on to the latest big deal and, like remoras, the parasites ride the thing all the way to the beach. Their attention is like a death ray.

And now, thanks to you know who, they are focusing that death ray on a staple in my diet for the last 40 years — the Hatch chile.

No doubt, within a short time, the foodies will rename it the Hatch Chili, and a sizable portion of the population of New Mexico and southern Colorado will commit suicide.

This insult is profound and strikes to the core of tradition. Who among we longtime Hatch maniacs can forget the sacks full of these long, green beauties (hot, please) being opened, the peppers tossed in a crusty roaster? Who can forget that extraordinary smell as the skins of the Hatch blacken and blister, the meaty flesh of the peppers softening in the rude heat?

Who can forget the ritual of putting the warm peppers in plastic garbage sacks, tossing the sacks in the trunk of the car, whisking them home and spending the better part of a day removing the skins from the peppers, then packing the peppers in bags and freezing them — their mouth heat actually growing more bold during their time on ice? Who can forget that the interior of the car smelled of roasted chiles for at least four months?

And, the taste.

Oh, my.

There are some ill-informed novices who will pooh-pooh my alarm, claiming there is no difference between green chiles grown in one location (Hatch) and those grown elsewhere.

I did use the word “novices” didn’t I?

How very wrong they are. Making this claim is tantamount to saying a pinot noir produced and bottled in Utah is the equal of the greatest French use of the grape.

Terroir counts, folks, with chile as with wine. Where the darned fruit is produced — the climate, the composition of the soil, all that and more — makes the diff. A big diff.

And, just as the highly educated and experienced aficionado of the grape can detect very real nuance and character in a wine (some of them can take a taste then name the village nearest the vineyard) — and can clearly detect quality, or lack of same, in a particular bottling — so too are there chile freaks who have perfected a similar art.

My friend, Ronnie, for example.

When I told him what Martha had done, he blanched and clutched his chest.

No way was I going to administer CPR (at least the mouth-to-mouth part), so it’s a good thing he recovered quickly.

“You must be kidding,” he said.

“Nope. In her I-know-more-than-you-do precious way, she has sounded the death knell for Hatch. Before we know it, the major part of the crop will be shipped from the region in fancy, gift-wrapped boxes, each individual chile encased in gold foil. People in The Hamptons will be throwing chile roasting parties on the beach. It’s over, buddy.”

We pondered a world without our favorite green.

“I suppose it wouldn’t do any good to put out a hit on Martha Stewart, would it? After all, the geeks know about it now. And, they’re like killer bees: when they locate their target they swarm, and that’s all she wrote.”

“Indeed. Maybe we can turn to Chimayo for relief.”

“No way. It doesn’t make it as green. Not compared to Hatch. Chimayo peppers make the greatest red in the world and, as we know, it’s the same basic pepper as in Hatch, just grown in a different place. When the Chimayo ripens and dries, and different peppers from different farms are blended and ground … it’s a bit of heaven. But, green? Never.”

We pause, a moment of silence extended in thanks for our prized and, as yet, unfoodied Espanola red. We each have at least a pound of the rare and wonderful powder in our freezer.

But, it’s not Hatch. It isn’t The Big Green. So, two moments of silence for The King: Le roi est mort.

That gem of a pepper is unique. And it stands out when it is put in the kitchen spotlight— isolated as a primary ingredient. The more naked, the more beautiful.

This is what is doubly irritating about Martha Stewart’s clarion call to her gaggle of food goofs: The recipe is for a salsa!

For crying out loud! Why would you waste Hatch chile in a salsa? The recipe combines a roasted and chopped Hatch chile with chipotle and some other lesser member of the pepper clan.

What an insult. Not only is the trend-happy horde alerted to a miracle, but now our beloved pepper is going to be abused by them!
This is so wrong.

I admit it: I’m an extremist when it comes to Hatch. I even believe it is somewhat wrong to use a Hatch green chile in a relleno, though the pepper’s incredible taste melds perfectly with the other elements. This can be tolerated, barely.

But, whoa Nellita … how about some strips of the roasted green, lightly salted, draped across a medium rare burger, the meat cut by your very own hand from a hunk o chuck and ground at home? A bit of cheddar or asadero anyone?

As a wrap for a stuffed chicken breast? Yep, that’s OK, as it is with pork.

As the star of a simple, yet seductive green chile stew?

My, aren’t we lovely.

This is where Hatch belongs; It’s a diva, not a member of the chorus.

And we can put it center stage in so many ways, as in a neat little custardlike casserole, the pepper paired with another couple of fave taste partners — corn and cheese.

This one is easy.

You got your strips of roasted, peeled hot green — Hatch, of course.

All you need is a buttered casserole, an oven heated to 350, some butter, high-grade cheddar, eggs, heavy cream, salt, pepper, a bit of ground cumin, some chopped white onion, a clove of garlic, a small can of cheapo creamed corn and a pack of frozen corn kernels.

And a good attitude. After all, attitude counts.

Chunk up some of the cheese, slice the rest.

The onion gets cooked briefly in a bit of olive oil, until translucent. In goes the frozen corn. Cook until the kernels of corn begin to caramelize a bit. Toss in the garlic and keep the blend on the heat for a minute or so. The mix comes off the heat and cools.

In a bowl, mix together the creamed corn, four or five beaten eggs, a splash or two of heavy cream, the chunks of cheese, a touch of the cumin, salt, pepper and one clove garlic, smooshed.

Put a layer of the corn/egg mix in the casserole, lay down a layer of Hatch that completely blankets the slop, then top with the remaining corn and egg. Cover with slices of cheese.

Place the casserole in a larger baking pan and fill the larger pan with hot water, to come up two-thirds of the way on the sides of the casserole.

Bake until the custard sets and the cheese on top is slightly browned (could be upwards of an hour). If the cheese browns too quickly, tent with foil and continue cooking until the custard is set.

Or, just make a grilled cheese sandwich with Hatch and the same high-grade cheddar. Or plop some chopped Hatch into a cheese omelet. Hard to go wrong.

The, do as I do: Retreat to the bathroom for some light reading.

In my case, it will be O, and O alone.

I wonder how I can get in touch with Oprah and convince her to alert her readers to the toxic effects of Hatch green chile on any but natives of the Southwest.

After all, O is all I have left.

And Hatch is all there is when it gets to green.


What's Cookin?

Quick and Snappy 3 Bean Chili

1 can Bush’s Chili Magic, Traditional Recipe
1 can red kidney beans, low sodium
1 can black beans
1 can diced tomatoes, no or low salt
2/3 cup Morningstar Farm Veggie Burger Crumbles or hamburger, browned
2 tablespoons dry minced onions
1 teaspoon beef style seasoning
1 teaspoon cumin

1. Lightly drain Chili Magic and pour into saucepan. Drain kidney beans and add to the saucepan. Do not drain black beans or tomatoes and add next.
2. Stir in burger and seasonings. Cover and simmer chili 5 to 10 minutes. Serve Hot
3. Use sour cream, chives or grated cheese for garnish.
Yields 7 cups. Source: Linda Kennedy.


Minty delight for late summer nights