Chili – starts with peppers!

written by Gallo, taken from North Coast Voice October 2022

The Autumnal Equinox has come and delivered the crisp chill and bright colors that make North East Ohio (NEO) especially gorgeous and tasty. ! Cubanelles and Anaheims grown in Ashtabula, Ohio 2022 – perfect pair for a pot of chili.

The hot, slightly spicy, colorful crock of warming chile is the quintessential NorthEast Ohio (NEO) staple that makes for a cozy treat on any crisp autumn day! There was a time when some folks attempted to convince me that chile is just meat, beans, a few spices and tomatoes. And in our southern sister-city of Cincinnati they will eat theirs with meat and tomatoes and add the beans on request. However, for those who grow, know it is the joy of colorful chiles in various sizes, shapes and hues of red, yellow and orange that make this pot most delicious, honored and revered! A salute to the chile pepper – the spicy, tasty, lively, born-of-the-Americas plant that is now grown on every continent and celebrated in nearly every country in the world. 

Naming: All chiles – the 25 wild and of those, 5 domesticated, which were around since humans arrived in the Americas between 15,000 and 25,000 years ago – belong to the genus Capsicum. As a tribute to the location, Christopher Columbus “discovered” and mistakenly named the chile, with its spicy kick, and which reminded him of the black pepper, chile peppers. Chiles were the major spice of the New World, and El Capitan Gonzalo de Oviedo noted, “Indians everywhere grow it…because they eat it continuously with almost all of their food.” It continues to intrigue and enhance all dishes it graces, now globally integrated into most cuisines. 

Health benefits: what fruit or vegetable has the most vitamin C? Just when you thought you need to move to Florida for some citrusy vitamin C… the sweet bell pepper rules this category and it is safe to stay! Capsaicin, the crystalline alkaloid that causes the heat in chile pepper, has also been used to treat pain, prevent cancer, improve blood circulation and decrease build-up in the arteries making them heart healthier. 

How to eat, prepare, enjoy, preserve: Chile, the one pot meal, is just the beginning, or, in this case, the middle! This year, try lightly pan-frying, in a cast-iron, shishitos with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper as an appetizer. Stuffed peppers come in a variety of nuanced dishes like the classic Eastern European dish to the Chile Rellenos. Fermented chile pepper sauce, fresh pepper sauces like harissa and berbere paste, chutneys, curries, nuac cham sauce will make any meal better, brighter, more satisfying and all feature the chile. For dessert hot cocoa with chile (Xocolatl) or a spicy Scott bonnet marmalade and fresh Chevre. The spice may just act as a digestive. Best ways to preserve include freezing, canning, drying and fermenting. 

Where to get yours: chiles grow especially well in NEO as evidenced by the abundance found at farmer’s markets and even some chain grocery stores sell this local staple. There is a list of farmers’ markets following this article and several weeks left in the season. It’s not too late to get yours. 

For fun: next time you make a batch of chile, start with as many various chile peppers as you can…make it a feast and a celebration of autumn color! 

For more love of peppers: Read Dave DeWitt’s Chile Peppers: A Global History. 2020. University of Mexico Press. 

Best Chile Recipe to take off the Autumn Chill and celebrate the color of the leaves 

Best ingredients will be locally grown and fresh – Try it! 

2 lbs of chiles – mix it up! Poblanos, Serranos, Cubanelles, Scotch bonnets for spicy, bells in purple, green, yellow, orange, red, diced 

4 – 6 cayenne chiles

2 ½ cups dry kidney beans (try Ohio-grown), soaked for a few hours or overnight 

1 cup tomato juice

1 cup spelt berries 

2 Tbsp. olive oil 

2 large onions

2 heads garlic 

2 carrots 

2 celery stock 

2 tsp cumin, basil, chili powder, salt black pepper 

4 large tomatoes, chopped

Additional toppings: finely minced parsley, green onions, grated cheese 

  1. Place beans in pan and cook for 2 hours or until tender 
  2. In a small pot, cook the spelt berries in the tomato juice (or water) until tender 
  3. Place olive oil in a large stock pot and saute onions, garlic and cayenne. Add chiles, carrots, celery and spices. Add chopped tomatoes 
  4. Add the beans and spelt berries to the stock pot and simmer for 20-40 minutes to several hours. 
  5. Bowl up and add additional toppings. Enjoy the taste of the season! 

Which of these chiles are hot? While they all look gorgeously spicy, the red St. Croix, orange habanada, small orange Biquinho are on the fruitier side and mild. The yellow Scotch bonnet is the hottest of this bunch! While in season, these specialty chiles can be found at Harbor Gardens in Ashtabula.

Making fermented chile pepper sauce – by the hand of Sarah Brower – 2022. This version includes fresh fruit to round out the taste. Save the seeds for next years’ garden.

Local farmers’ markets near you – how many have you visited? Ask your local farmer about their chiles, what varieties they like to grow, what part of regenerative farming are they engaged and how to purchase a whole bushel for freezing and/or making soup to can: 

Tuesdays: 

My Neighborhood Project 

At ACMC Health Plaza 

11-2pm 

Thursdays: 

Painesville Farmers’ Market 

12-4pm 

Painesville Square, Painesville, OH 

Fridays: 

Mentor 

2-6pm through Sept 23 

Eleanor Garfield Park 7967 Mentor Ave, Mentor, Oh 

North Kingsville Community Farmers’ Market 

9-1pm

6546 Church St (at N Kingsville Presbyterian Church) 

Saturdays: 

Conneaut Farmers’ Market 

9am – 1pm 

Located in the Moose Lodge parking lot at 

280 Park Ave, Conneaut, Oh 

Geauga Fresh Farmers Market 

9am – noon 

5205 Chillicothe Road, South Russell, Oh 44022 

Geneva Farmers’ Market 

9am – 1pm 

Hosted by Geneva United Methodist Church (GUMC) 

89 S. Broadway, Geneva, Oh 

Jefferson Farmers’ Market 

9am – 1pm 

Located behind the Historical Society, 

42 E Jefferson Road, Jefferson, OH 

Shaker Square Farmers’ Market 

Year – round from 8am – noon 

13209 Shaker Square, Cleveland, OH 

Willoughby 

8am – noon 

City Hall Parking Lot; 1 Public Square 

Sundays: 

Ashtabula Farmers’ Market in Historic District 

10am – 2pm

No markets during festival weekends 

1105 Bridge Street, Ashtabula Harbor, OH 

Photos by T Gallo