From cocktails and appetizers to pasta and preserves, these recipes show off the fruit’s full range of flavors.
Give Cocktails a Kick
To start these serrano-mint margaritas, roast a serrano pepper (a staple of Mexican cuisine), then muddle it with sugar and mint; the fruit releases liquid to dissolve the sugar, so you don’t have to make simple syrup. In another twist, the glasses get rimmed with pink salt and sumac, which is mellower than lime. The pink lady is a habanero-hibiscus sour, a cross between agua de Jamaica—a Mexican hibiscus iced tea—and the Peruvian pisco sour. Habaneros have a floral quality that complements the tart hibiscus, and emulsified egg whites create the cloud of foam on top.
The stuffed, battered, and fried poblanos in chiles rellenos divorciados are a sensory revelation: crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, and tingling with mild spice. The secret is to separate and whip the egg whites for the coating, which results in a shatteringly light, souffléd texture. Divorciados refers to the separated salsas—a red one made from roasted tomatoes, and a tangier green one from tomatillos. Fresh poblanos are usually sold green, which indicates a stage of ripeness, not flavor. To test for heat, cut off a bit and touch it to your tongue.
Ignite the Night
How do you make dinner guests deliriously happy? Greet them with bite-size jalapeño-bacon johnnycakes. The batter balances sweet and hot peppers: You can substitute fragrant Fresnos for the jalapeños; or Anaheims, which have a juicy, thick flesh, for bells. Or try cherry peppers, which hit both spicy and floral notes. Dollops of avocado-cilantro cream put out the fire, and a sprinkle of crunchy chopped raw peppers stands in for pico de gallo.
Indulge All Year
Preserved peppers enliven dishes long after their fall harvest. Hot-pepper relish (top left), made from chopped fresh chiles, sugar, and cider vinegar, tastes amazing mixed into mayo, burger patties, or deviled eggs. Whole pickled peppers are great for Bloody Marys, soups, and stews (and have less sting than sliced, since the skin hasn’t been punctured); sliced ones give sandwiches, pizza, or scrambled eggs a jolt. And pepper-mint jelly (far right) brightens meats and rich fishes like salmon and swordfish. But the easiest way to make peppers last is to hang whole ones to dry on a string, like so, then crush a bit over pizza, or toss pieces into Szechuan stir-fries.