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How to Spice Up Your Cooking with Peppers

Want to add more spice to your Mexican cooking, but don't know where to begin? Earlier this week, BC Cooper offered an article describing the heat index of various hot peppers. To continue on our journey, let's here take a closer look at some of the most common varieties of hot peppers and how to make the most of each one in your home cooked south of the border cuisine.

Rules of Spicy Cooking

When working with peppers, remember to start out small—taste each pepper before adding it to food, then add small amounts until you achieve the desired spiciness. You can always put more spice in, but you can't take it out once it's in there! Also, take care to wash your hands after handling hot peppers. If you forget and then you rub your eye or make a rush trip to the bathroom, you'll sorely regret it!

Pepper Varieties

Here's a brief description of several common peppers you might want to try.

Green Chile: These green chiles are 5 to 8 inches long and 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter. They have a sturdy thick skin that makes them an ideal choice for stuffed pepper recipes. Green chiles are mildly to moderately hot with a sweet undertone. These peppers are a good choice if you're unsure about your spice tolerance.

Jalepeno: About 2 to 3 inches long and fairly narrow, the green jalepenos of late summer and the red jalepenos of fall have a fiery hotness and a full flavor that fans of spicy foods crave. Use a tiny amount for a moderate spiciness, or use a lot to really turn up the heat. Great for sauces, sandwiches, and other dishes where a moderate to intense hotness is desired.

Poblano Pepper: This mild and richly flavored chile is typically around 4 inches long and 2 ½ inches wide with a thick, dark green skin. Dried poblano pepper is called ancho chile, and it ranges in color from reddish to brown. Poblano peppers are a great addition to chilies and stews, and like the green chile, they're an excellent choice for rellenos or other stuffed pepper recipes.

Habanero Pepper: Unless you're really ready for the hot food olympics, don't fool around with the habanero! Ripe habaneros are usually red or orange, and they're typically one to two inches long. This incredibly hot chile demands respect, and should be used in very small quantities to spice up meats or sauces.

Now that you know what to look for, you should feel much more confident in cooking a meal that's a little on the spicy side!