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Mar 19, 2011 07:33 AM

Chili Vertigo

No, not a new recipe. I just find myself dizzy and disoriented when it comes to understanding chilies. I see recipes that call for "chilies" or "hot chilies" or, even worse, some chili that has five different names depending on what region you are in.

Point is, I really want to learn how to use chilies in recipes, but I first have to get some basics down. Even when I have looked at cookbooks or those large poster you see sometimes, I can rarely equate what I read there with that I see at the local grocers.

Does anyone know of a reference that might help? Or if someone would be be so kind to offer their Dummies Guide to Chilies here, that would be great.


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  1. I've given an overview of chiles in some other threads, but before I try to find one of those, could you give more information. Where are you, and what kinds (names?) of chiles do you readily find in the groceries. It makes a big difference whether you live in southern California, Texas, midwest USA, or UK. What types of recipes are you looking at - authentic Mexican, Thai, Korean, etc.

    Just note on spelling:
    It is highly variable, but in the USA, a useful rule of thumb is 'chile' means the pepper, 'chili' means the stew. 'chilli' is used outside the USA. There are even more plural forms.

    OK, I'll add a few general points:
    - smaller the chile the hotter
    - large (milder) fresh ones are mainly used in Mexican (and related) cooking, and are often first roasted to remove the skin. If your grocer labels them as pasilla, they probably are the same as poblanos (in the books or recipes).
    - large dried ones can be ground, or can be rehydrated and pureed.
    - to a degree small ones can be used interchangeably. As a novice you want to use those with caution, and to taste.

    1 Reply
    1. Thanks. Both of these responses help.
      I live in the Midwest, so the actual names of the chiles may be a little butchered by the time they get here.

      1 Reply
      1. re: SkipII

        Are you more interested in dried ones or fresh? Milder or hotter?

        Fresh ones that you are likely to see are (from mild to hotter):
        Poblano (sometimes labeled pasilla)
        Habanero/Scotch Bonnet
        shows the Mexican dried chiles that a grocery might carry.

        Can you be more specific about names that you can't match? Are there ones in the grocery that you can't find in your sources, or ones in the books that can't be found in the grocery?


          describe fresh and dried chiles, with a good match with names used in groceries. Few groceries will have all of them.

          1. Chili is a dish made using 'chiles.' Chiles are capsicums usually with some pungency. Italians call chiles 'peperoncini', the generic term for hot peppers as opposed to 'peperoni', the plural word for non-pungent sweet peppers like bell peppers plus other varieties of non-pungent capsicums. Some chiles are designated as 'aji', a word from South America.

            Look for books written by Paul Bosland, Director of Chile Pepper Research at New Mexico State University, or Dave DeWitt, publisher of Fiery Foods Magazine (?), and books that are co-authored by the 2 of them.