Garden Fresh: Green Hot Chile Peppers

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The hard part of moving to Houston from Albuquerque was getting cut off from an endless supply of Hatch green chiles, the best peppers in America, or so I thought. Like Chuy's, nearly every restaurant in New Mexico has a pepper item, and I once saw a tray of green chile brownies disappear in a TV studio. "Not bad, but I wouldn't buy one," reviewed a crewmember.

For a local replacement, I turned not to the Tex-Mex default--the jalapeno--but rather Mexico's No. 1 hot pepper. Serrano peppers are hotter than jalapenos, but they don't shut down my palate like habaneros.

Serranos proved to be better than green chiles as my special ingredient in tuna salad. The heat of the peppers give a kick to an otherwise bland dish, and chile flavor cancels out the least desirable of the fishy notes -- the "canned tunosity, if you will.

The raw serranos also replace the crunch of celery, as I refuse to buy a celery bunch, use half of a stalk, and let the rest turn rubbery in the fridge.

Recipe and growing tips, after the jump.

Simple Lazy Tuna Salad

  • 1 can albacore tuna, in oil or water, drained
  • 1 generous tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 serrano, seeds removed, chopped
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Mix together well. I use Kewpie, a Japanese mayonnaise with added umami flavor, available at Central Market and various Asian markets. If the chiles are too hot, remove the veins; that's where the heat is.

Serranos and other hot peppers grow well in the garden or containers, if planted any time after Valentine's Day, and fertilized every week. They prefer mildly acid soil and as much sun as possible. I water them, then let them dry out to the point where they droop, before watering again. It's stress that makes peppers hotter, like a lot of things in life.

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