Jalapeño: Hot stuff!

Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: JALAPEÑO

Named after Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz, Mexico, these smooth, dark green (scarlet red when ripe) chiles range from hot to very hot. They have a rounded tip and are about 2 inches long and 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Besides their flavor, jalapeños [hah-lah-PEH-nyohs] are quite popular because they’re so easily seeded (the seeds and veins are extremely hot). They’re available fresh and canned and are used in a variety of sauces, sometimes stuffed with cheese, fish or meat, and in a multitude of dishes. In their dried form, jalapeños are known as chipotles. America’s favorite chile pepper is by far the jalapeño, which is milder than its cousin, the serrano.

The spiciness in the jalapeño comes from a compound called capsaicin that is found in all hot peppers. Interestingly enough, capsaicin is found in no other plant than the chile pepper. A single drop of this substance combined with 100,000 parts water is still noticeably spicy. Capsaicin itself is tasteless and odorless and is produced by the glands in the chile pepper’s placenta (ew, yes, the placenta), found at the top portion of the pepper below the stem.

NOTE: The placenta is about sixteen times hotter than the rest of the pepper and is usually removed along with the seeds (another hot part of the pepper) when preparing food. If you’re looking for a good kick with your dishes, leave it in along with the seeds. Additionally, when handling chile peppers, you should always wear rubber gloves to avoid contact with the pepper oils. The oils can cause a burning sensation on the skin.

For some great recipes, click here or here or try this great party dish:

1 14 oz bag extra thick tortilla chips
3 cups refried beans
3 cups cheddar cheese, grated
4 jalapeño peppers, sliced

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange a layer of tortilla chips along the bottom of a wide, shallow baking pan. If possible, use a baking pan that also can be used as a serving pan, such as a ceramic platter. Spread the refried beans over the chips. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top of chips and beans. Sprinkle slices of jalapeño peppers over the cheese. Bake in oven for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Serve with dollops of salsa, sour cream, and/or guacamole. Top with chopped cilantro to be extra fancy.

Serves 8.

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