Ingredient Spotlight: Chile Pequín

I'm visiting my hometown of San Antonio, Texas, this week and like my other recent Southwest trip to New Mexico, I've been blessed with the gift of local chiles. These are chile pequíns from my mom's yard, harvested and dried late last summer.

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Chile pequín shrubs appear in wild landscapes and gardens across Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, and they are thought to be the closest living relative of the ancestor of all chiles. The ripe, red fruits are usually collected and dried in mid- to late-summer.

Although these pine nut-size chiles are the smallest in the world, they pack quite a bit of fire with a smoky, citrus-y flavor. I like to add one or two crushed pods to tortilla soup, beans, pickles, and other dishes where one might otherwise use red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper. If I weren't allergic to chocolate, I'd probably give this intriguing recipe from Cupcake Bakeshop a try, too.

Chile pequíns are also known as chile piquíns, bird peppers, and chiltipiquíns. If you don't have access to a bush (or a family member in the Southwest!), you can order them from Penzeys Spices.

Related:
Sense of Place: Southwestern Flavors and Ingredients
Sense of Place: Food and Cuisine of the Southwest

(Images: Emily Ho, Mobi Warren)