The fickle nature of hot peppers grown outside a greenhouse environment is one of the first lessons you will learn from small farmer’s markets, home gardens, and community supported agriculture. Exposed to drought and variable temperatures, the amounts of capsaicin, the chemical that makes hot peppers seem hot, vary wildly even among the same sort of pepper. The only way to judge the heat index of an individual pepper is to taste a tiny piece of it – and note that the ribs, not the seeds contain most of the chemical, and therefore the super convenient end to slice off will lie to you. So, in practicality, the only way to cook with ‘wild’ peppers is one or two at a time, with surplus of your cooler ingredients on hand to water it down as need be.
Or, you could just stuff completely unlabeled peppers with cheese, bread them until they all look the same, and pan-fry them for a sadistic game of Serrano Chili Surprise. This was not the best idea my farmsteading ex-New Yorker friends and I have ever had. So, instead, something like a recipe for salsa verde (makes 8-12oz):
- One small yellow or red onion
- One pound of tomatillos
- Salt and/or cilantro to taste
- Zero to 2 tbsp white vinegar, to taste
- Olive oil for cooking
- One. Or two. Or half of one. Or three. Fresh, real, outdoor jalapenos. Or half as many serrano if you’ve got them. Why not.
- One small poblano, yellow wax, or otherwise unspicy pepper if you’ve got one
- Zero to one pint of yellow cherry tomatoes which will totally save you at the last minute.
Start by peeling, washing, and quartering the tomatillos. Then put a large soup pot on the stove with a tablespoon or two of olive or other veggie oil in the bottom and set it to medium heat while you chop the onion, and then chop any non-spicy pepper. Throw the diced onion and spicy pepper in the pot as soon as it’s warm, stirring occasionally.
Before you start on the hot peppers, go find some latex or nitrile gloves and put them on. This step is technically optional.
Slice each pepper down the middle, pull out the seeds and as much of the ribs as you intend to, and try eating a tiny, tiny section. Guess how many peppers you can stand, and chop each into very small pieces. Once the onion pieces in the pot are translucent, add the hot peppers to the pot. Once those are soft, add the tomatillos.
This is the part where people who thought they were too cool for gloves can turn to page Use Olive Oil To Get Hot Pepper Oils Off Your Hands, Milk If You Get It In Your Eyes because we are stupid. And we never learn. Ever.
Stir occasionally. Add a few tablespoons of water if things start to dry out and stick too much. If you lean over the boiling muck for too long with your eyes open, go back to page Use Olive Oil To Get Hot Pepper Oils Off Your Hands, Milk If You Get It In Your Eyes. When you think it’s done, i.e. when all the ingredients are soft, turn the heat off for a few minutes and then dump the whole pot into a blender or food processor. Blend for a few pulses; your goal is to keep the tomatillo pieces from devolving into paste. Try a tiny bit with a spoon. Cry. Drink some dairy or nondairy milk. Add salt, pepper, vinegar to the salsa to taste. Now, this is where you start throwing yellow tomatoes in the top of the food processor, hitting the “pulse” button a few more times, hoping that somehow it will all be okay.
When it is all okay, you can can some or all of the salsa (if and only if you’ve added vinegar), or just eat it as soon as it cools. You have survived salsa verde surprise. Enjoy.