I’ve had a strange problem this year with sourcing chiles with consistent heat. Sometimes they’re fiery, other times they’re meh. There are also times when the chiles –- jalapenos and Fresnos, taste like regular bell peppers. Thai chiles –-homegrown and purchase from farmers’ markets, may excite the palate or fall flat. Serranos are consistently hot but can be one-note if that’s all you use. I deploy chiles in stir-fries, tuck them into banh mi, and drop them into hot bowls of pho noodle soup. They go into salsas, guacamole and other non-Asian dishes that we regularly eat. You expect some fruity heat but when there’s none, it can rob a dish of an element of surprise.
My interest in chiles isn’t because I’m a chile head who seeks to set my insides on fire. What I aim for is a note of fire with fragrant fruitiness. Chile heat for the sake of pure heat obliterates my senses and I can’t enjoy other elements in a dish. Vietnamese food often benefits from a moderate amount of heat. Thai food is about balancing heat with other elements too. A nice chile takes your senses close or to the edge, then lets things come back to normality.
September is when lots of chiles show up at the farmers’ market and ripen in people's yards. Let’s share our chile experiences and tips so we may learn from one another.