Mexico Life
These baked jalapeños are stuffed with hard and cream cheese. These baked jalapeños are stuffed with hard and cream cheese.

Because some like it hot: jalapeños add kick to everything they touch

This tolerably hot chile pepper can be added to a smorgasbord of dishes

Small, unassuming and commonplace, jalapeños are actually anything but. They’ve been included as food on the U.S. space shuttle, they’re the “state pepper” of Texas and are the “secret” ingredient in the internationally popular Sriracha sauce.

Even the Sinaloa Cartel found them appealing: turns out “El Chapo” Guzmán once operated a jalapeño cannery as a front for shipping drugs to the U.S.

Trivia aside, the secret to the popularity of jalapeños may lie in their hot but tolerable (and often irresistible) chile pepper kick. That heat is also easy to manipulate in recipes: since almost all of the capsaicin and pungency-causing compounds are in the white “veins” and seeds, all you have to do is remove those and you’re good to go.

The green skin does have a bit of a bite, and as they ripen that develops more, but in general jalapeños are on the low end in terms of Scoville heat units — unless they’ve been stressed while growing.

How would you know this? If a jalapeño has been stressed while growing – by erratic watering, too-high temperatures, incorrect soil nutrition, insects, illness — their pungency increases. You can tell that’s been the case because there’ll be small brown lines

on the skin, called “corking.” Those Jalapeños will be hotter than most. The more scars, the hotter the pepper.

A steak topped with Argentinian chimichurri sauce.
A steak topped with Argentinian chimichurri sauce.

Jalapeño plants are easy to grow and one healthy plant can produce 25-35 peppers. picked over the course of a season. If left to ripen, jalapeños turn red and are hotter than their younger green counterparts. Smoked, they’re called chipotles. Not surprisingly, jalapeño juice is used as a remedy for allergies and clearing sinuses.

Fresh or canned, jalapeños can be added to a smorgasbord of dishes: pizza, mac and cheese, tuna salad, scrambled eggs, quiche, frittata, casseroles of every type, shrimp cocktail, chili, and of course they’re a mainstay in Mexican classics like every kind of salsa, guacamole, nachos and even the simple quesadilla sencilla.

As with all hot peppers, keep jalapeños (and hands that have touched them!) away from skin, eyes, lips or other membranes, as the oils are irritating. If you forget and do something like rub your eyes, rinse with hot water. If your skin is irritated, wear rubber gloves next time or wash with hot soapy water and rub vegetable oil on the area.   

One more bit of trivia: the unbeaten Guinness World Record for the most jalapeños eaten in a minute was set by Alfredo Hernandes in 2006, who consumed 16. And the most jalapeños eaten? That would be 275 pickled jalapeños, eaten in eight minutes by Patrick Bertoletti in 2011.

Nancy’s Famous Jalapeño Jelly

Folks in Mazatlán have been buying and loving this for 11 years. Nancy says it’s great on crackers with cream cheese.

  • 2 cups diced jalapeños, seeded & deveined (about 15)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 box pectin
  • 3 cups sugar
  • Optional: green food coloring

In a large pan, bring jalapeños, water and vinegar to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes. Strain out pepper pieces; from this liquid, measure out 3 cups, adding more water if needed, and bring to a boil again. Mix in pectin. Add 3 cups of sugar, stir and bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Add a few drops of food coloring if desired. Pour into four ½-pint jars or two pint jars. Cool upside down until lids ping and seal, about 10 minutes; no canning necessary.

Jalapeño-Cilantro Dipping Sauce

Think of this as Green Goddess with a kick. Use as a salad dressing, on fish or chicken entrees or tacos, or over a pork roast.

  • 1 jalapeño, seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves with tender stems
  • 2 Tbsp. mint leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. (or more) fresh lime juice
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin
  • Kosher salt

Purée everything in a blender until very smooth. Taste and season with salt and more lime juice, if desired.

Baked Stuffed Jalapeños

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • ½ cup grated sharp cheddar or chihuahua cheese
  • 6 large jalapeños, halved, seeded, veins removed
  • 3 Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper
  • Bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 450 F. In small bowl, mix cream cheese, cilantro and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. With a small spoon, fill each jalapeño half with about 1 Tbsp. of cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Place peppers on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet and bake until cheese is browned and bubbling, about 10-12 minutes

Option #2: Add ¼ cup crumbled cooked bacon into cream cheese mixture.

Chimichurri

This classic Argentinian sauce can be used as a marinade and served with all cuts of beef, fish, shrimp, poultry, and as a dip or on a torta.

  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 large jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 3–4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more
  • ½ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh oregano
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
The classic Argentinian chimichurri sauce.
The classic Argentinian chimichurri sauce.

Combine shallot, jalapeño, garlic, vinegar and 1 tsp. salt in a medium bowl. Let sit 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, parsley and oregano. Whisk in oil. If using as marinade, reserve ½ cup to a small bowl for sauce. Toss meat (or chicken wings or whatever) with remaining sauce in a glass or ceramic dish, cover and let sit in refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight. When ready to cook, remove meat from marinade, pat dry and grill. Use reserved chimichurri as a sauce. –bonappetit.com

Jalapeño Popper Dip

  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
  • 8-10 jalapeños, seeded & minced
  • 5 slices cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)
  • ½ cup sweet corn
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix all ingredients together in a small casserole dish. Bake 15-20 minutes until warm and bubbly.

Janet Blaser has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to be able to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

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