Corn, beans and chiles are the backbone to Mexican cookery. Though the cuisine is as varied as the varieties of each.
Blue, red, sweet and starchy, corn is used in tortillas, hominy, drinks and the street food favorite, corn on the cob, slathered with mayonnaise and chile.
Protein-rich beans are simmered as a pot of beans or mashed and refried.
Chiles include the hothothot Habanero to mild green peppers. As a general rule, the smaller the chile, the hotter. The seeds and veins are where most of the spicy heat resides, so if those are removed, or not released by cutting, the heat stays in the chile, not in your mouth.
Capsaicin is the component in chili peppers that makes you cough, shudder or cry.
The Scoville scale measures the heat in a chile based on Scoville Heat Units. The world according to Scoville indicates that Pepper X and Carolina Reaper ring in with a fiery 800,000 to 3,200,000 heat units, the Habanero and Scotch Bonnet 100,000 to 350,000, poblano can range from 1,000 to 1,500, a jalapeno anywhere from 2,500 to 8,000 and bell pepper has 0 to 100. Though any one pepper can surprise you with its mildness or heat. There is something for everyone with chiles.
When you do cut them, handle with care. Chile oil can stay on your skin, actually burning your fingers.
So if you rub your eye, uh, ouch! Don’t do that. Gloves help but a good handwashing is a must. In your mouth, water will spread the spicy oil, where fat and sugar may help put out the fire. Milk, sour cream, cheese and yogurt are often added to spicy dishes to tame the flame.
At a Yucatan cooking school, I learned to use whole chiles for flavor without heat by leaving the chiles whole. Simmer them whole to add floral and citrus flavors, but without the spiciness. Choose one of each varietal to add flavor interest.
Cook with the chiles that match your heat tolerance. I used a poblano and a jalapeno with the corn and beans in this recipe. I call it a Mexican power bowl, but it makes a tasty taco. With an egg on top, it’s a hearty breakfast. And then there was the dinner I originally made it for. In summary, this recipe worked for every meal!
Judy Barbe is a registered dietitian, speaker and author of “Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being.” Visit her website www.LiveBest.info for every day food solutions.