Chili peppers are a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine. There are more than 150 varieties of peppers and each one has a flavor that is unique. If you choose to use peppers when making Mexican dishes, try to use the specific pepper recommended in the recipe. This will help your dish have an authentic flavor that can’t be denied.
Ancho chilies are the dried version of a Poblano pepper. It needs to be rehydrated for several hours before you can add them to recipes. Once they are rehydrated, they are often ground up before being added. If you’ve ever had Mole sauce, you have eaten Ancho chilies.
Chipotle, a smoke-dried jalapeno pepper, can be used in many dishes. They can be found canned, dried or whole. The smoky flavor is prized when added to black beans sauce. Chipotle is also a component of Huevos Rancheros and is a good accompaniment to tacos, burritos and other dishes.
Bell peppers are common to most of the United States. They come in several colors including; green, yellow, orange and red. Bell peppers are considered a “sweet pepper” as they don’t produce capsaicin – the chemical that gives peppers their heat. Bell peppers are often used when making fajitas but are excellent stuffed or raw in salads.
Poblano peppers are mild in flavor and very versatile. They measure 1,000-2,500 Scoville units with red being the hottest. Poblano’s can be breaded and fried, roasted and stuffed or used in mole sauces. Chile Rellenos is one of the more widely known dishes where Poblano peppers are used.
The Jalapeno pepper is one of the best known of all chilies. It measures 3,500-8,000 Scoville units so while not the hottest pepper, it still has some heat. There are an endless number of uses for the jalapeno pepper. We often see them on top of nachos or diced in cheese dip but they’re also great to make jelly with.
Serrano peppers are small cousins of the jalapeno. They measure 10,000 to 25,000 Scoville units, so are hotter than jalapenos. Serrano peppers are often used in pico de gallo or pickled in vinegar but many enjoy eating them raw.
Cayenne peppers are not native to Mexico but are often used in dishes where you want to add extra heat. They measure 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units and can pack a punch. Dried cayenne flakes, also called red pepper, has a multitude of uses and can often be found on the tables of pizza parlors.
Habaneros are a smaller pepper but don’t let their size fool you. They measure between 100,000 to 360,000 Scoville units, so they are very hot. The habanero has a distinct citrus-like flavor with intense heat and is excellent in salsa, hot sauce and foods where you want a hot and spicy flavor.
Whether you’re in the mood for salsa, chili or another dish where you want great flavor with or without heat, you cannot go wrong with using one of the peppers listed above. One word of caution when cooking with the hotter pepper versions, either use the recommended amount given in the recipe you’re following. If you’re creating your own recipe, start by adding just a little of the pepper and allow it to blend with the food before adding more. Trust me, a little can go a long way!