Local In-Season: Habañero Peppers
Natural Times, July/August/September 2012
By Bridget GuruBeant Welch, LMT
The habañero pepper is one of the hottest peppers in the world, known not only for its heat, but also for its fruity, citrus-like flavor and floral aroma. The habañero chili comes from the Amazon region, and from there it spread to Mexico, where the largest producer is the Yucatan Peninsula. They also grow well in Belize, Panama, Costa Rica, Columbia, and parts of the United States including Texas, Idaho and California.
Habañero peppers are very high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants. They are a great source of capsaicin, a chemical found in the veins of habañero peppers and other chiles, considered a cancer-fighting nutrient.
Habañeros thrive in hot weather. As with all peppers, the habañero does well in an area with good morning sun and slightly acidic soil. Habañero bushes are good candidates for a container garden. They should be watered only when dry. Overly moist soil and roots will produce bitter-tasting peppers. The habañero, a perennial flowering plant, with proper care and growing conditions can produce flowers (and thus fruit) for many years. In tropical and subtropical regions, the habañero, like other chiles, will produce year-round as long as conditions are favorable.
Select the plumpest, fully ripe peppers from the garden or market. Red or orange habañero peppers that have ripened fully on the bush will start rotting within a couple of days after picking them, so use them immediately. Fully ripe peppers have a delicious sweetness to them, in spite of any heat. Do not wash peppers before refrigerating them; water hastens decomposition.
Be careful when chopping or cooking with peppers. Wash hands very thoroughly afterward because the pepper’s spicy oils will burn any skin they touch.
You can choose whether to leave the seeds in or remove them. The seeds don’t contribute much to the heat of the peppers. The real heat comes from the connecting veins that attach the seeds to the interior pepper walls. You can always save the seeds to plant more peppers.
Cooking with habañeros is limitless. To get started, try this tasty recipe found on www.epicurious.com:
Salsa de Chili Habañero
Makes about 3 cups
16 medium tomatillos (about 2 pounds), husked, rinsed
1/2 medium white onion
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 (1.5-inch) fresh habañero chili
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat broiler. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Arrange tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chili on prepared baking sheet. Broil until vegetables blacken in spots, about 5 minutes per side for chili and about 10 minutes per side for tomatillos, onion, and garlic.
Transfer vegetables and any accumulated juices to blender. Add cilantro, limejuice, and salt. Puree until smooth. Transfer salsa to bowl. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Season salsa to taste with more salt.