With due respect to Mrs. Gump, my mama always said life was like a box of jalapeños: You never know how spicy it is going to be until you bite into one.

And that’s the problem with jalapeños in general. You could have two of the peppers side by side, identical in every way. You bite into one, and it produces a pleasant, faint tingle on your tongue, like fairy dust. Then you nibble on the other, and it melts your ears.

Jalapeños are a most inconstant fruit. So why do we love them so much?

Because they are just that good.

In my youth, I occasionally used to eat entire jalapeños raw. We all do stupid things when we are young, and that was one of mine. I didn’t enjoy it, but I thought I should.

Fortunately, I am older and wiser now. I take my peppers in smaller doses. I also make absolutely certain to wash my hands thoroughly and then wash them again whenever I touch a jalapeño that has been cut open. That’s a mistake that you only make once.

I began my exploration of jalapeños by making one of my favorite things, a green hot sauce that is overspilling with flavor and goes on everything from eggs to chicken to fish to salads.

It’s simple to make, though it takes a little effort. What distinguishes this sauce from so many others is that it begins with a blend of green chiles — serranos, jalapeños and Anaheims — to give layers of flavor to the heat.

I also made jalapeño-cilantro pickled corn, which is corn relish with a little bit of a kick. Some pickles can be harsh because they are over-pickled. But this is a quick pickle, which is made in a weak brine. That allows the vegetables to keep their flavors pure while still exhibiting an enjoyable tartness.

My next dish was a green harissa, which turns out to be almost entirely unlike a regular harissa.

Harissa is a staple of North Africa, a condiment used in vegetable dishes, on grilled meat, spread over fish, as a dip with bread, with eggs and more. A red paste, it is fiery hot with a pleasantly smoky flavor.

Gjusta’s green harissa, on the other hand, is mild and earthy in taste. It is almost like a pesto, with chopped arugula, cilantro and parsley, plus garlic and a single jalapeño. No wonder it has so little heat.

But it does have a solidly satisfying flavor and is every bit as versatile. I tried it with chicken, and it was terrific.

Because I was still hungry, I made cheddar jalapeño chicken burgers with guacamole, in which the jalapeño is mixed into ground chicken before being formed into patties.

This is another case where the particular jalapeño was on the (very) mild side. But the burgers were marvelously flavorful because of all the other good things that were also mixed into the patties.

And if you happen upon a jalapeño that actually has a kick to it, the burger would be better still.

I still wasn’t done, so I made an absolutely lovely side dish, smashed fingerling potatoes with thin slices of jalapeños to add a nice little counterpoint of heat.


Servings: 4

11/2 pounds ground chicken

1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 teaspoons chopped jalapeño

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1/3 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper

4 hamburger buns, toasted

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup guacamole


Sliced red onions

Prepare a grill for medium heat (or use a skillet with a little oil on it).

Transfer the ground chicken to a medium bowl. Add the onion, cilantro, garlic, jalapeño, cumin, paprika, cheddar cheese, salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix everything together. Make sure everything is evenly incorporated without overmixing the ground chicken.

Form the mixture into 4 (1/2-inch-thick) patties. Cook burgers over medium heat until cooked through, 5-7 minutes per side. Serve each patty in a burger bun topped with sour cream, guacamole, lettuce and red onion slices.

Nutrition information per serving: 597 calories; 32 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 164 mg cholesterol; 34 g protein; 38 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 7 g fiber; 1,239 mg sodium; 221 mg calcium.

— Recipe by whatsgabycooking.com


Servings: 16

1/2 pound serrano chiles

1/4 pound jalapeños

1/4 pound poblano or Anaheim peppers

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons honey

Note: This mixture of peppers yields a very hot but very flavorful sauce. If you want it milder, use more poblano or Anaheim peppers and fewer jalapeños or serranos, while still keeping 1 total pound of peppers. If you want it hotter, use more jalapeños and fewer serranos.

Heat the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place chiles on prepared baking sheet, and poke holes in each one with a fork.

Broil 10 inches from broiler until tops start to blacken, about 5-10 minutes. Flip, and broil until tops start to blacken, another 5-10 minutes. Place in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap for at least 15 minutes.

Wearing gloves, remove the skins, stems and many seeds as possible. Place in a food processor or blender along with the vinegar, salt, lime juice and honey. Process until smooth, about 1 minute.

Nutrition information per serving: 21 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g protein, 3 g carbohydrate, 2 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 119 mg sodium, 99 mg calcium.


Servings: 16

4 ears of corn

1/2 small onion (yellow or red), thinly sliced

1 jalapeño, thinly sliced

4 large sprigs cilantro

1 cup distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 (1-quart) canning jar or 2 (1-pint) jars with lids

Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Cook the corn in a large pot of boiling water until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Set in ice bath to cool. Drain; cut kernels from cobs, and place in a large bowl.

Add the onion, jalapeño and cilantro, and mix well. Transfer mixture to jar or jars.

Bring the vinegar, salt, sugar and 2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar. Pour hot brine over mixture in jar, and cover. Let cool, then chill. Will keep in refrigerator for 2 months.

Nutrition information per serving: 24 calories; 1 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 1 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 1,518 mg sodium; 0 mg calcium.

— Recipe from Bon Appétit


Servings: 8

3 pounds fingerling potatoes, halved crosswise if large

1/2 cup olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1 jalapeño, thinly sliced into rounds, seeds removed if desired

1/4 cup (lightly packed) chopped parsley leaves

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Toss the potatoes with 1/4 cup oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown and tender, 30-35 minutes. Let cool slightly, then lightly flatten.

Meanwhile, whisk the vinegar and mustard in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in remaining 1/4 cup oil until emulsified; season with salt and pepper.

Add the potatoes, jalapeño and parsley, and toss. Season with salt and pepper.

Nutrition information per serving: 137 calories, 2 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 2 g sugar, 4 g fiber, 52 mg sodium, 21 mg calcium.

— Recipe from Bon Appétit


Servings: 24

1/2 onion, halved

1 tomatillo, husk removed, rinsed

1 jalapeño, halved, seeds removed from 1 half

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups cilantro leaves, with tender stems

2 cups parsley leaves with tender stems

2 cups arugula

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest or 1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon

Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the onion, tomatillo, jalapeño and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing once, until vegetables are soft, 12-15 minutes. Let cool.

Place the vegetables in a food processor along with the cilantro, parsley, arugula, vinegar, lemon zest and remaining 1/2 cup oil. Purée until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Nutrition information per serving: 10 calories, 1 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g protein, 1 g carbohydrate, 1 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 124 mg sodium, 12 mg calcium.

— Recipe from Bon Appétit

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