Just recently, a friend sent me a bushel of her home-grown jalapeno peppers and I did not even blink twice before reaching for my bottle of white vinegar. You see, when blessed with such a bounty of chiles, the easiest way to make a very good culinary investment is to preserve them in the form of a Latin "escabeche".
Escabeches are ever-present throughout the entire Latin territory. We inherited this technique of of pickling and preserving ingredients from the Spaniards who colonized the New World territories centuries ago, who themselves learned about escabeches from the Arabs. This ancient way of pickling vegetables, meats, or seafood, can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire. Though the history of escabeches is long, the technique is easy to master. Basically, escabeches begin with the preparation of a hot vinaigrette that is combined with whatever will be preserved--in my case, these amazingly plump, hot and spicy chiles.
I began without a recipe, since I have prepared chiles in escabeche all my life. I simply sauted some chopped purple onion--I guess I could have used any other color but the purple looked ravishingly beautiful against the vibrant green of the chiles--with some sliced carrots, using some corn oil to saute the vegetables until they were a bit soft but had not taken any color. I then added a few garlic cloves and cooked those for a few seconds. I added all of the chiles--which I had washed ahead of time--and stirred for 5 minutes over medium-heat, just enough to warm them but not cook them through. I seasoned them with a little bit of Mexican oregano--I like its pungency better than the sweet Mediterranean counterpart--and with 2 large bay leaves. I threw in some sea salt and whole peppercorns for good measure and balance of flavors.
I then covered the vegetables completely with white vinegar, allowed the mixture to come up to a boil while stirring the chiles so they would all cook evenly; and turned the heat off. I covered the pot and allowed the vegetables to steep for 30 minutes before transferring them to clean jars. Once they came to room temperature I closed the jar and refrigerated the chiles in escabeche. They will last in my refrigerator for up to 3 months--or should I say, they should last that long but probably will be finished before that time has elapsed.
I put this chiles into everything I eat--sliced in sandwiches; chopped over chilis, stews and soups; minced into mayonnaise; stirred into scrambled eggs, etc. I admit that I have not dared to try them with my oatmeal breakfast but have to confess I've thought about it. To me, these chiles in escabeche are as adictive as pickled cucumbers are to pregnant women.
A word to the wise: these are very hot...I mean it. The pickling process accentuates the power of the capsaicin within, so if you cannot stand the heat, please seed these before eating them. The carrots and onions are ideal for those who love a faint level of heat, since they take in all of the escabeche's flavor but little of the spicy bite. Which is why I am generous with the onions and carrots I add to my escabeches, since these make delicious additions to salads, sandwiches, and quesadillas and provide a tangy flavor without the heat.
So for those of you out there, who are just now facing a garden filled with generous chile plants and don't know what to do with such bounty, preserve them in escabeches. They are easy, economical and absolutely delicious!
Copyright C. Sandra Gutierrez; 2008.