Hatch a plan

New Mexican Hatch chiles have a fleeting season, but roasting preserves the harvest.

New Mexican Hatch chiles have a fleeting season, but roasting preserves the harvest.

It’s Hatch chile season in the Southwest, and those in the know are stocking up.

You may not know Hatch chiles by name, but you’ve almost certainly eaten them if you’ve enjoyed the distinctive fare of the Southwest. The green chiles come from the dinky town of Hatch, N.M., and are a key ingredient in the area’s cuisine. The Hatch is prized for its meaty texture and subtle heat. The chile, which grows to about 6 inches, looks just like its descendent, the California Anaheim, but boasts more complex flavor. Hatch chiles are a seasonal bargain–about $2 a pound, which is a whole lot of flavor for very little cash.

But here’s the thing about the Hatch: It has a fleeting season, harvested from late-July to (maybe) early-September, which contributes to its mystique. If you don’t stock up now, you’ll have to wait until next year’s harvest. All over New Mexico and the Southwest, people will buy 10, 20, 30 pounds or more and have them roasted. Then they freeze the chiles to use throughout the year.

The folks at Melissa’s Produce are on a bit of crusade to make the Hatch a national obsession by distributing the chiles far beyond New Mexico and arranging chile-roasting events at supermarkets. Where I live, in Los Angeles, people line up at Bristol Farms or Albertson’s to have their chiles roasted.  That’s handy if you’re loading up with, say, 25 pounds of chiles. But if you’re new to Hatches and just buy a few pounds, you can roast them at home. That’s what I did with a box of the chiles sent to me by a friend who works at Melissa’s. Here’s how:

Preheat the broiler, and move the oven rack to the top level. Arrange the chiles in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with foil. Broil 15 minutes or until the skins are blackened, turning halfway through the cooking time. Toss the chiles in a plastic zip-top bag or paper bag (I was roasting several batches of chiles so I used a big paper grocery bag). Seal, and let stand for 15 minutes to allow the chiles to steam, which loosens their skins. You can peel the chiles at this point, but I just wrapped them up, refrigerating some for the recipe below and freezing the rest. You can peel the chiles as you use them. In fact, I think they’re even easier to peel after they’ve been chilled.

Hatch Chile Romesco Sauce

Hatch Chile Romesco Sauce

Hatch Chile Romesco Sauce

Traditionally, Spanish romesco sauce is made with roasted red bell peppers and almonds. I used roasted Hatch chiles and pecans instead. It would be interesting to try this with roasted tomatillos instead on tomatoes, too, but, hell, Trader Joe’s didn’t have any when I was shopping the other day. Hatch chiles lend this version mild heat. The sauce is great with grilled fish or chicken, for dipping bread, or tossed with hot pasta.

6 Hatch chiles

2 medium tomatoes

1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices

1/2 cup toasted French bread cubes

1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans

3 garlic cloves

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Preheat broiler. Move oven rack to top position.

2. Arrange chiles, tomatoes, and onion in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with foil. Broil 15 minutes or until blackened, turning halfway through cooking time. Transfer chiles and tomatoes to a large zip-top plastic bag or paper bag; seal, and let stand 15 minutes. Peel chiles and tomatoes.

3. Combine chiles, tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a food processor; process until chopped. Add bread and pecans; process until chopped. Add oil, vinegar, and salt; process until smooth. Garnish with cilantro, if desired. Yield: about 2 cups.

Midweek nibbles

Picture 1Mystery solved

Why didn’t Julia Child like Julie Powell’s blog? Food editor/writer Russ Parsons knows and spills the beans.–Los Angeles Times

Picture 2The dish that made Julia swoon

Well, Meryl Streep playing Julia in “Julie & Julia,” anyway. Here’s a version of Dover Sole Meuniere–Culinary Institute of America

Picture 5Moveable feast

In my post the other day about fattening food stamps, I noted that a major factor in the obesity epidemic is lack of access to affordable fresh food. Rebecca Rothbaum reports on one possible solution: mobile farmers’ market trucks, similar to the mobile library buses of the 1960s.–The Atlantic

Picture 4Food culture overhaul

The folks at The Hartman Group, a market research firm that does some of the most insightful research around about food and health, say the debate about the obesity epidemic needs to move from blaming individuals to our overall food culture. “We believe significant shifts in important dimensions of our eating culture (e.g., increased snacking frequency, the tendency toward eating alone, and the shifts in eating occasions) have contributed to much of our health and obesity problems.”

Picture 3The world’s best

Hmm, maybe our unhealthy food culture is part of the reason why Mexico City is the only North American city to make Forbes.com’s list of the world’s 10 best cities in which to eat well.–Forbes.com

Food stamps are fattening

A tight food-stamp budget doesn't leave much room for fresh fruit, and that may contribute to recipients' higher body weight.

A tight food-stamp budget doesn't leave much room for fresh fruit, and that may contribute to recipients' higher body weight, according to a new study.

It’s certainly not what the federal government intends, but a long-term, nationwide study finds the U.S. Food Stamp Program may contribute to the obesity of recipients. Food stamp users have a body mass index that’s 1.24 points higher, on average, than nonusers.

“We can’t prove that the Food Stamp Program causes weight gain, but the study suggests a strong linkage,” says Jay Zagorsky, co-author of the study and a research scientist at Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research.

The study tracked 10,000 women–both food-stamp recipients and nonrecipients–over a 14-year period. Even after accounting for income (poverty is a known contributor to obesity), race, and education, researchers identified a strong link between food stamp use and higher body weight. “Every way we looked at the data, it was clear that the use of food stamps was associated with weight gain,” says Zagorsky.

Of course, food stamps aren’t exactly generous–just $81 a month in 2002, the last year examined in the study. “That figure was shocking to me. I think it would be very difficult for a shopper to regularly buy healthy, nutritious food on that budget,” says Zagorsky. Fatty, high-calorie processed foods tend to be cheap, which helps stretch limited food funds.

“Every way we looked at the data, it was clear that the use of food stamps was associated with weight gain.”

Offering incentives like more benefits for purchasing healthier fare and taking nutrition classes may be a solution, he suggests.

Improving access to good food is a related issue, since food-stamp recipients who want better food may have a hard time finding it. A recent USDA report finds many people in poverty live in s0-called food deserts with limited–or no–access to affordable, nutritious food.

Go ahead, be blue

Blue- and red-hued foods may help improve cholesterol.

Blue- and red-hued foods may help improve cholesterol.

If you’ve been gorging on summer-fresh blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and other red and purple foods, good for you. They’re loaded with anthocyanins, flavonoids that lend these foods their distinctive shade. Anthocyanins have been credited with fighting cancer, diabetes, inflammation, and neurological disorders.

Now the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports the flavonoids may also improve cholesterol. Chinese researchers found that twice-daily supplements containing 160mg of anthocyanins raised blood levels of  helpful HDL cholesterol and lowered harmful LDL cholesterol in study volunteers. Of course, you could just eat some berries–100 g (about 3.5 ounces) of blueberries contains 208 mg of anthocyanins–and enjoy other benefits, like the flavor and fiber. They’re great out of hand, or in all manner of sweet and savory recipes.