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Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a taste of chiles

| Sunday, April 28, 2002

The holiday called Cinco de Mayo commemorates the defeat of a well-outfitted French army by a small, poorly armed Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It is a celebration of freedom and liberty not just for the Mexican people, but for Americans, too, who have come to understand its importance concerning basic freedoms.

Cinco de Mayo fiestas feature dancing, music and joy — and, need it be mentioned• — food. Its zestiness is ignited by chilies, peppers and salsas.

According to "The Whole Chile Pepper Book" by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach (Little, Brown and Co., $22.95 paperback), southwestern U.S. chefs have taken chiles from their humble role in Native American cooking and brought them to the foreground while reinventing wonderful, traditional dishes such as enchiladas, tacos, soups and salsas. Cutting-edge chefs aren't afraid to try new ways to use chiles, and neither should the home cook.

Nutritionally, fresh chiles are low in calories. They are a good source of fiber and add so much flavor to a dish you can take it easy on the salt.

If you put too much of a good thing in your mouth, quell the heat of a chile with a dairy product such as sour cream, yogurt or milk, or chew on bread. Water won't do the trick, because capsaicin, the element in a chile that makes it hot, is not water soluble.

Preparation of a chile depends upon which one you plan to use. The smaller chiles, such as the serrano, habanero or jalapeno, are easy to use. Simply slice or chop and use according to your recipe. To prevent burns, wear rubber gloves when slicing or chopping, and do not touch your face or eyes until you have washed your hands (and the gloves) thoroughly.

Other larger chiles, such as New Mexicans or poblanos, must first be peeled. To do this, you must roast the chile. Usually, this is done by placing the chiles on a baking sheet under a broiler or over the flame of an outdoor grill. Turn the pepper to evenly blister the skin without burning it. Once the skin is well-blistered, seal the chiles in a plastic or paper bag for a few minutes to steam. The steam helps the skin pull away from the chile, making it easier to peel when cool. Once the chile is peeled, it can be sliced or used according to your recipe.

Chiles can be frozen. The larger ones should be roasted but not yet peeled. After roasting, lay them on a baking sheet to flash-freeze. Then sort them into plastic bags for freezing. To use, take the number of chiles you need out of the bag and peel the skin off under cool running water. This also helps to thaw the chile.

Smaller chiles do not need to be roasted before freezing. Frozen chiles will keep in the freezer for as much as nine months.


Chicken Tacos with
Fresh Corn Salsa

This easy entree is from the National Chicken Council.

    For the fresh corn salsa:
  • 1 box frozen corn kernels, cooked
  • 1 ripe tomato, diced
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

    For the tacos:

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into parts
  • 1 cup canned enchilada sauce
  • 1 package taco seasoning mix
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) Cheddar cheese, grated

To make the fresh corn salsa : In a large bowl, stir together the corn kernels, diced tomato, green onions, jalapenos, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

To make the tacos : Place the chicken parts in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. On top of the stove, bring the chicken to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the heat and set aside to cool.

Drain the chicken and dice the meat, separating it from the bones.

In a medium saucepan, place the diced chicken with the enchilada sauce and dry taco seasoning mix. Cook over low heat, stirring, for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Wrap the tortillas together in foil and warm them in the oven for 10 minutes.

To serve, wrap the tortillas in a cloth napkin and place them in a basket. Place the chicken mixture, salsa, sour cream and grated cheese in individual serving bowls. Assemble by topping the tortillas as desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving : 638 calories, 28 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 52 grams carbohydrates.


Brined Pork Loin with
Orange-Chipotle Jus

This recipe is adapted from "Healthy 1-2-3" by Rozanne Gold (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35), which last weekend won the top prize in the "Health and Special Diet" category in the 2001 annual cookbook competition sponsored by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

    For the brined pork:
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 8 to 10 cups water
  • 1 (2 1/2 pounds) pork loin

    For the marinade and sauce:

  • 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup water, divided
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup orange juice, divided
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon arrowroot dissolved in 2 teaspoons water
  • About 1/2 teaspoon salt

To prepare the brined pork: Stir the salt and water in a large bowl. Put the pork into the brine, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Turn a couple of times during the brining time.

Drain the pork, discarding the brine. Pat the pork with paper towels to absorb some of the excess moisture. Put into a shallow casserole.

To make the marinade: Put the chipotle chilies with a little of the adobo sauce into a small saucepan; using the back of a spoon, mash the chilies. Add the orange liqueur and 2 tablespoons water. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes over medium-high heat, until thick and a little syrupy.

Spoon the marinade over the pork; cover and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lift the pork from the marinade and place the meat on a rack in a roasting pan. Reserve the marinade and set it aside in the refrigerator. Combine 2 tablespoons orange juice and the olive oil. Roast the pork for about 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, basting a few times with the oil mixture. When the pork is done, transfer to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil for about 10 minutes.

To make the sauce: Pour the fat out of the roasting pan. Pour 1/2 cup boiling water into the pan, swirling to dissolve some of the caramelized juices. Strain into a saucepan, then strain the marinade into the saucepan and stir in 1/4 cup orange juice. Bring to a boil; whisk in the dissolved arrowroot, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt.

Carve the pork and spoon some of the jus over the top.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Nutrition information per serving : 209 calories, 9 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 69 milligrams cholesterol, 24 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 260 milligrams sodium.

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