Dried chipotle chiles are showing up everywhere--on restaurant menus, in food articles . . . and now in home kitchens. Not as readily available as other ethnic ingredients, these chiles are definitely worth looking for in Latin markets and often in the Mexican food sections of supermarkets. They give food a tasty kick with very little effort. They lend a remarkable smoky flavor and appealing heat to an array of dishes as almost no other ingredient can.
To make chipotles, jalapenos are smoke-dried over an outdoor pit. This process accounts for the unique flavor. They can be found canned in adobo sauce, packaged as dried chiles or pickled.
I find canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce especially flavorful and easy to use. Once the can is open, they can be frozen individually in an ice cube tray and then wrapped and bagged for easy access in the freezer door. They don't have to be soaked first, as is necessary with dried chiles.
Chipotles can be added to soups, sandwiches (especially grilled cheese), sauces, salsas, vegetables, beans and grains, salads and seasoning rubs for roast chicken, lamb, pork, beef and grilled seafood.
Best to go slow, as a little goes a long way. Start with a small quantity, and always rinse the chiles to remove the seeds. The seeds (and sauce on the canned chiles) account for the intensely hot taste. You can always add more, but once a dish is too hot, it's all but impossible to reduce it.
Consider the following recipes that use chipotles to advantage. The split pea soup is the old-fashioned variety, robust and comforting with just a hint of heat and additional smoke from the chipotle. The chipotle is more prominent in the open-faced chipotle ham sandwich and the jicama and orange salad with chipotle vinaigrette. Adjust the heat to your own taste, always remembering that, with chipotles, even less can be more than anticipated.
With a crusty loaf of bread and a salad, this soup makes a great meal. The yield may seem immense but you'll love having it in the freezer for cool days.
SPLIT PEA SOUP WITH CHIPOTLE CHILE
1 pound split peas
1 tablespoon oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, minced
3 large stalks celery with green leaves, minced
4 large carrots, minced
4 (14 1/2-ounce) cans reduced sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 to 1 can chipotle chiles, seeded
Freshly ground pepper
Diced ham, optional
Put peas in 2-quart bowl. Sort through, discarding pebbles or odd bits. Cover with cold water. Soak overnight. Drain liquid into 1-quart measuring cup. Reserve up to 2 cups for soup, or add water to liquid to make 2 cups.
Heat oil in 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add garlic, onion, celery and carrots. Cook until onion is tender, about 6 minutes, stirring often to avoid burning.
Add peas, ham bone, broth, 2 cups soaking liquid and water, bay leaf and thyme. Cook, uncovered, until peas are mushy, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let soup cool slightly. Use tongs to remove ham bone and bay leaf.
In batches, puree soup in blender or food processor fitted with metal blade. Puree chipotles in 1 batch. Combine peas with half chipotles. Stir well. Adjust consistency with water. Adjust seasonings and chipotle to taste. Can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated, or frozen in portions in airtight food containers up to 3 months.
To serve, gently reheat, adjust consistency and seasonings to taste. Serve hot, garnished with diced ham. Makes about 8 servings.
Each serving contains about:
255 calories; 652 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 42 grams carbohydrates; 17 grams protein; 2.83 grams fiber.
This sandwich would never be as good without the chipotle. Cut into small wedges, it's also good with cocktails. Chipotles are also delicious in cold meat, fish, vegetable and cheese sandwiches, mixed into the mayonnaise or sandwich spread.
OPEN-FACED CHIPOTLE HAM SANDWICH
1/4 pound ham, trimmed of all fat, diced
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/4 chipotle chile, seeded, minced
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
4 English muffins, split
Put ham, onion, chipotle and cheese into small bowl. Mix well. Divide evenly among English muffin halves. Lightly compact with back of spoon.
Broil until cheese begins to brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 8 sandwich halves.
Each half-sandwich contains about:
273 calories; 630 mg sodium; 52 mg cholesterol; 27 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams protein; 0.12 gram fiber.
This is a refreshing, crunchy salad with just enough spark of chipotle in the low-fat dressing.
JICAMA AND ORANGE SALAD WITH CHIPOTLE VINAIGRETTE
2 medium oranges, peeled, segmented
1 small jicama, peeled, cut in thin strips
4 cups baby spinach leaves, rinsed, patted dry, then chilled
1 bunch cilantro
Combine oranges, jicama and spinach leaves in large mixing bowl. Toss well. Cover and refrigerate. Salad should be well chilled. Can be prepared several hours in advance.
Add Chipotle Vinaigrette to salad. Toss until well combined. Divide salad among 4 chilled salad plates. Garnish with cilantro sprig. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings
Each serving contains about:
117 calories; 195 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 1.26 grams fiber.
Note : To section orange, cut flat ends on top and bottom of orange. Stand orange on board and cut away all peel and white pith with sharp, flexible knife. Hold orange over bowl as you cut segments away from membrane. Squeeze membrane to release juice over segments. Then discard.
1/2 cup orange juice
4 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon oil
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 can chipotle chiles, seeded
2 large green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine orange juice, lime juice, oil, honey, chipotle, onions, cilantro leaves, cinnamon and salt in work bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade or blender. Adjust seasonings to taste. Process as smooth as possible, about 30 seconds. Can be mixed several hours ahead and refrigerated.
* Glazed French earthenware pottery from Cassis and Co. at Cinzia, Santa Monica.