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Jan 9, 2009 11:01 PM

Teach me about chiles: fresh, dried, smoked, whole, ground...

I already know this might be too broad a topic.

I like chiles of all types, from all places, in nearly all possible forms. I like them dried and ground, I like them Thai, I like them warm off the plant from the backyard, I like them smoked, salted, tinned in sauces, packed in oil, deep-fried, powdered and combined with other spices, I like them Central American, Indian, Malaysian, African, Sichuan, I like them mashed with garlic. I like them dark, sweet, bitter, hot, mild, smoky, I like them even when they don't seem to belong. (Chiles or lovers?)

But I don't know anything about them. I've heard of anaheim, ancho, aleppo. By now everyone knows chipotles. My knowledge mostly stops there.

I have a lot of questions. You do not have to answer any of these, of course. But I would like to learn everything you can tell me about chiles. Chile? Chili? Chilli? Capsicum? Whatever. Maybe you happen to be an expert on one particular smoked type of one particular cultivar? Tell me.

What types are commonly used in what cuisines? What do they look like? (Is there a fetching visual guide I could find anywhere?) What purposes does each one serve?

Which ones can I readily buy fresh in North America? Which ones can I grow? What dried, smoked, ground or otherwise processed chiles can I order online and where should I order them from?

How do I store them? How can I cook with them? Where can I eat the best foods that really play on the strengths of a type of chile? What are your favorite sauces or dishes to cook with them? Have you come up with any unusual but brilliant combinations that use chile where it's unexpected?

Is it true that I can make lanterns out of them?

Most importantly: what safety tips should a neophyte learn for handling chiles in the garden or the kitchen?

I especially appreciate book recommendations if you have any.

Thank you all, you are all my sweetest burn.

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  1. We've grown habaneros, cayennes, jalapeƱos, and Hungarian yellow wax peppers. We found dried cascabeles (jingle bell peppers) at Penzey's Spice a few years ago and used them to decorate holiday gifts as well as grinding them for cooking.

    For handling them, consider wearing gloves and really wash your hands well. A former coworker grew only peppers in his garden and inadvertently rubbed his eyes and was in considerable pain.

    We buy chipotles in adobo for chipotle cornbread.

      1. Wait a minute, you profess this great love of chiles, and you don't even own 'The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia' (Dave DeWitt 1999)? :)

        Get thee to an online used bookstore and order a copy!

        There are several online collections of chile information. A web search for one of the more obscure types should produce them. Have you looked at the Wiki article?
        Reading that, and following the links there will keep you busy for a while.

        2 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          I agree, anything by DeWitt (who was the founder of the Chili Pepper Magazine) is worth it.
          I can't count how often I've used his "Whole Chili Pepper Cookbook" and his guide to dining in the Southwest greatly enhanced my trips there.

          1. re: paulj

            Other good books on the subject:

            Peppers: A Story of Hot Pursuits, by Amal Naj. This is particularly interesting for its extensive coverage of the politics of Tabasco.

            The Pepper Garden, by Dave DeWitt (see above) & Paul Bosland. The definitive guide to growing your own.

          2. It looks like you've asked too many questions, and scared everyone off. :)

            Something more specific, like what's the hottest pepper, is likely to generate more responses and debate - there was a thread of that sort a while ago.

            1. Which one's you can grow depends on 1) where you live and 2) how experienced a gardener you are. The Pepper gardener by Dewitt is a good resource.
              I live in Vermont (which has a very short growing season) so I have to use hoop houses to make growing peppers possible. You usually can find a regional distributor for seeds that are chosen for your area. Here in the North East I use Johnny's Select Seeds, but in Northwest Washington I used Territorial. Find a source that is in your region.

              2 Replies
              1. re: chilihead

                In FL, I have 8 plants, from habanero, datill, yellow banana (can't remember the exact name), 3 kinds of jalapenos. year round but spring to early summer is the main season for the actual peppers. Yes you need to check with your local agrig department to see what will work best. Your area is much different then mine. I never used seeds, ever. Down here too hard. I suggest plants for anyone but that is just me. Even in MI, when small plants became available, we used the plants as well.

                To learn, I went online and found a couple of great sites and also I bought a small book. 6 bucks and tells me all about the different chilis. It was and still is very helpful. Some I know about and use all the time, but others, I don't use often.

                1. re: kchurchill5

                  Two sources for chile seedlings


                  Both have a very wide selection of chiles. I think has better general information about chiles and growing them, but both are good sites.