The smoky aroma of chiles roasted over hot coals--sweet Bell peppers, dark green
poblanos, fiery jalpenos and mild Japanese shishitos--signals the arrival of autumn.
One sure sign of fall—along with the early pumpkins and bronzey green scuppernog grapes—is the aroma of fresh peppers roasting over an open fire. At Carrboro Farmer’s Market, the folks from Peregrine Farm will sell you a pound or two of capsicums—your choice, anything from sweet Bells to the spiciest habaneros—tumbled over hot coals in a revolving wire drum. The succulent, smoky aroma perfumes the morning air, drawing ravenous crowds who’ll wait for nearly an hour to take home a warm bag of delicious charred peppers.
But you can also roast fresh peppers at home. Yesterday I mixed fiery red and green jalapenos from the garden with an assortment of peppers from the market: dark green poblanos with just a touch of heat, mild shishitos, the long yellow-green pepper popular in Japan (for more, see The Serendiptious Chef, and red and yellow Bells. Together they ran the gamut from sweet to mild to hot, which is one of the great things about mixing them up.
There are two easy ways to roast capsicums. One is to heat a dry cast iron skillet over a medium flame, toss in whole peppers and turn them until they are charred all over. This can take a while, but if you’re feeling lazy, it’s a pleasant way to while away part of a Sunday afternoon. Or, if you’re planning to cook outside, you can put them on the grill while the flames are high and the coals are still too hot for the meat. Using tongs, turn them often until they’re blackened and blistered all over.
Add thick slices of onions to the grill and you can make a version of rajas. Rajas are strips of sauteed poblano peppers and onions, and in northern Mexico, they are often served with a very thin, delicious steak known as a tampiquena. Rajas go well with almost any cut of grilled beef and also with grilled pork chops and pork tenderloins.
Grilled pork tenderloin with fresh peppers roasted over hot coals gets an extra
kick with a spicy sauce of lightly toasted ancho peppers, peanuts and cumin.
Now if you are serving pork, as I did last night, you might want to do a riff on roasted peppers by also preparing a delicious sauce of lightly toasted ancho peppers blended with onions, fresh tomatoes, a little cumin and crushed roasted peanuts. Wrinkly, blackish-brown anchos are simply dried poblanos. Gently heating them in a hot pan the them brings out their deep, fruity flavor, while the peanuts add richness to the sauce.
Spoon the ancho-peanut sauce over the top of the sliced pork tenderloin or over a grilled pork chop, add a tangle of the roasted fresh peppers alongside and serve with a tangy coleslaw dressed with while balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Fall is here—at last!
Fire-Roasted Fresh Peppers and Onions
2 pounds assorted fresh peppers, as desired
2 medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
Here are two ways to roast peppers:
1. Heat a large, dry cast iron skillet over a medium flame. When it is hot, add the whole peppers. Turn occasionally until they are blackened and blistered all over. The small peppers will char faster than the others; remove them as soon as they are done. When all the peppers are roasted, set aside. Add the onion to the hot pan and turn until it is lightly charred on both sides. Set aside.
Or if you are cooking outside, make a fire in your grill and place the grill on top. Rub the whole peppers and sliced onions with a little olive oil. When the coals are red hot and the flames are high, put the peppers and onions on the grill. Using tongs, turn until they are charred all over. Remove and set aside.
2. When the peppers are cool enough to touch, cut out the stems, slit them open and remove the seeds. Rub off some of the skin if you wish, but it is not necessary to do so. Cut them into strips and set aside.
3. When you are ready to serve, heat a skillet over a low flame, add a a tablespoon of olive oil, and gently sautee the peppers and onions for 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt to taste and serve while still warm.
Roasted Ancho-Peanut Sauce
6 ancho peppers (see note)
1 large onion, quartered
2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 small tomatoes, peeled and cored
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, coarsely ground
1. Heat a large cast iron skillet over a medium flame. Lightly toast the ancho peppers just until they soften and puff up a little. Do not char them—they will taste bitter if allowed to burn. Remove and place them in a bowl. Cover with boiling water and set aside to soak until they soften.
2. Add the onion quarters to the pan and cook until they are lightly charred. Add the garlic cloves and cook, turning often, until they are soft. Do not let the cloves burn. Peel and set aside.
3. Drain the ancho peppers, but reserve 1 to 2 cups of the soaking liquid. Cut away the stems, slit them open and remove the seeds.
4. Put the peppers in the container of a blender or food processor. Add the onion, peeled garlic, tomatoes, cumin and one cup of the soaking liquid. Whirr until smooth, adding a little more liquid only if necessary. The sauce should be quite thick.
5. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a medium saucepan and heat over a low flame. Add the ancho sauce and cook gently for a few minutes. Add the peanuts and continue to cook over a low flame for 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt to taste—you’ll need a teaspoon or more to balance the flavors.
6. Serve warm over grilled pork tenderloin or pork chops. The sauce can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for 2 days. Reheat before serving.
Note: Dried ancho chiles are available in Latino markets and in the international aisle of many supermarkets. They may also be sold loose in the produce section of some markets. Anchos should be soft, not brittle, and should be glossy black and very wrinkled, without any holes or other blemishes. You can also order them from Penzeys or from Los Chileros de Nuevo Mexico.
Grilled Pork Tenderloins with Cumin, Coriander and Garlic
To serve 4
2 to 2-1/2 pounds pork tenderloins
1-1/2 tablespoons cumin seed
1-1/2 tablespoons coriander seed
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
1. About two hours before you are ready to cook, remove the tenderloins from the refrigerator. Rub them with a little olive oil and put them in a large roasting pan.
2. In a spice grinder, pulverize the cumin and coriander seed. Mix the spices with the garlic and rub all over the tenderloins. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside.
3. When you are ready to cook, build a charcoal fire in your grill. When the coals are covered with white ash and the flames are low, rub the tenderloins with a little more olive oil. If the tenderloins are very small—1/2 to 3/4= pound--place them on the grill, at the edges of the coals. Cover and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Turn, cover and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and check for doneness. If they are still too pink, return them to the grill and cook for a few minutes longer. (If the tenterloin is a large one, then place it closer to the coals and cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side, turning, for a total of 20 to 25 minutes or until it is done to your taste.)
4. When the pork is done, remove and let it rest, covered with aluminum foil, for 10 minutes. Slice thinly. Serve with the fire-roasted peppers and a bowl of warm ancho-peanut sauce on the side. Accompany with a bowl of coleslaw tossed with white balsamic vinegar and olive oil.