"The Great Pepper Cookbook" is both informative and lusciously photographed {Cookbook Review}

“The Great Pepper Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Cooking with Peppers” from Melissa’s Produce is not only filled with unusual recipes, it’s also an excellent reference book filled with pictures and descriptions of every fresh and dried chile used in the book.

The Great Pepper Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Cooking with Peppers by Melissa's Produce. Published by Oxmoor House. Hardback, 257 pages, 140 recipes. List price: $29.95 (Amazon $24.07)

My dad used to joke that I must’ve been switched at the hospital. How could a daughter of his NOT like spicy food? To this day, when entertaining the family, he always makes a salsa just for me sans jalapeños – salsa for wimps, he’s teased.

It’s not that I don’t like a little kick in my salsa. It’s just that I don’t like feeling like there’s three alarm fire going off in my mouth. Heat so hot that it makes you cry? No thank you.

My auntie teased the other day when I said that I didn’t like a lot of heat in my food that that statement was, in fact, a joke. My experiments with Harissa, my addition of New Mexico or California chile powder to a lot of my Mexican-centric recipes, contradicted my insistence that heat is not my friend. She even claims that my homemade taco seasoning is much hotter in spice than hers has ever been.

So, OK, maybe I’m slowly coming around to chile peppers after all.

“The Great Pepper Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Cooking with Peppers” from Melissa’s Produce is not only filled with tons of recipes to get me started, it’s also an excellent reference book filled with pictures and descriptions of every fresh and dried chile used in the book. There are a lot of chiles in this book that I’ve never heard of; there are a lot that I would never try; and there are several in the "not hot" to "a bit of a kick" that I am willing to give a taste.

The design of the book is well thought out, going hand in hand with the content. A high percentage of the recipes have a beautiful color photograph of what the finished dish should look like with little to no additions in the food styling of items not mentioned in the recipe or headnote.

At the start of the book, we have the Scoville scale. The scale measures the concentration of capsaicin in any given pepper from 0 equaling sweet peppers to millions for the hottest peppers. This scale serves as a very visual and fast way to quickly look up the heat level of the peppers used in the included recipes.

Following the scale is a thorough visual glossary of the peppers used in the book’s recipes divided into two sections: one for fresh and one for dried. This feature is particularly helpful if you’re sourcing out a pepper you’ve never bought before and have no clue what it looks like. Each section is capped by a helpful visual step-by-step on how to prep the peppers.

The typography is clean, appropriately sized with the recipes having a clear hierarchy of type allowing for quick scanning while using the book in the kitchen. Little chile icons follow the recipe titles indicating heat level with one meaning sweet to little heat, two meaning moderate heat, and three meaning watch out! In addition, each recipe is accompanied by little photos of the peppers used in the recipe which is super helpful and keeps you from having to flip back to the front of the book to see what a recipe’s pepper looks like.

Nearly every recipe has a sidebar with either shopping tips, suggestions on swapping peppers, or prep tips. The recipes themselves are straight-forward, written with clear and concise instructions that most novices should find easy to follow. Most of the recipes also include at least a one-line headnote with serving suggestions, garnish recommendations or alternate ingredients. Recipes are accompanied by the most common nutritional data analysis per serving making it easy for those of us watching our carb, calorie or sodium intakes.

The book is divided thusly (I also call out some of the recipes that caught my attention):
  • Appetizers, snacks, and drinks (Mini Crispy Fish Tacos, Spicy Stuffed Mushrooms, Chile-Berry Aqua Fresca)
  • Breakfast and brunch (Roasted Poblano Chile Frittata, Quinoa Patties with Sunnyside-Up Eggs, Farro, Chile and Mushroom Patties)
  • Soups and salads (Beef Tortilla Soup)
  • Sandwiches (Several sounded quite delicious but I'm not currently eating white bread so I did not single any out.)
  • Main dishes (Stuffed Roasted Pork Tenderloin, Pollo en Crema, Lettuce-Wrapped Tacos, Beef Barbacoa, Slow-cooked Stove-top Pork Roast)
  • Side dishes (There are a lot of potato offerings which, although tasty sounding, I can’t eat. But two grain dishes jumped out: Vegetable Quinoa, Couscous with Chiles and Grilled Vegetables)
  • Desserts (I can’t make most of these but some I can tweak and make sugar-free like Raspberry Ice Cream Sundaes which use store-bought ice cream and is accented with a dark chocolate chile pepita bark or the Devil’s Favorite Devil’s Food Cake which I think I could make diabetic-friendly.)
  • Index (Cross-referenced by pepper type and meal type, i.e. main dish or dessert, etc.)
I try to test a few recipes for most of my cookbook reviews. I singled out two to try: Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Anaheim Chiles and Raspberry-Chile Chicken Thighs.

First up: the Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Anaheim Chiles

I had really high hopes for this recipe but it turned out to not be such a success. The instructions have you par-cook the bacon. The problem is, by doing so, they shrink quite a bit. There was no photo of this dish which is unfortunate. I sure would like to see how they were able to make one strip of bacon “wrap" around a chile. The recipe calls for 16 strips of bacon and 16 chiles but I needed at least two to just partially cover a pepper. Also, I grew up eating Anaheims and know how delicious they can be when roasted. This recipe did not call for pre-roasting and removing the skins from the chiles. I made these with the par-cooked bacon and then tried it with wrapping one raw piece of bacon around the chile (which did indeed wrap the chile). Problem was, baking the chiles long enough for either the par-cooked bacon, or worse, the raw bacon, to properly crisp up made the chile skin very papery and inedible. Also, on paper, it sounded like an intriguing list of ingredients for the stuffing: pepper-Jack cheese, pepperoncini peppers, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced black olives. But in reality, the flavors were all competing with each other - spicy, vinegary, sweet, salty. There was just too much going on making this dish a fail. However, with tweaks, this idea could really produce an interesting meal and I plan on playing with the general idea in the near future.

So I moved onto my next recipe: Raspberry-Chile Chicken Thighs

Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner!

This Raspberry-Chile Chicken Thigh dish was simply delicious. Even my grandmother, who isn’t a big meat-eater, enjoyed it. I did make an itty-bitty tweak at the get go to make the recipe more diabetic-friendly: I subbed no sugar-added raspberry preserves in place of the regular raspberry preserves called for in the dish. It was more than sweet enough (or maybe it’s just that my tastebuds are adjusting for real, naturally-occuring sugar?).

Hatch Chiles

I roasted and had every intention of using the Hatch chiles called for in the dish (lucky for me, my CSA box had a half dozen and the recipe called for four). However, while peeling the skins off, I gagged from the capsicum in the chiles and my eyes wouldn't stop watering. I knew there was no way I would be able to eat them. Not wanting to completely abandon the recipe mid-stride, I roasted some of the leftover Anaheim chiles and subbed them in. It turned out to have the perfect balance between sweet and spicy.

This recipe is going into rotation. That is, once I get through some of those aforementioned recipes that caught my eye.

The failed recipe aside, overall, I found this book to be a keeper. It’s filled with great information that will serve as a reference for future cooking adventures, contains some really inventive recipes, most of which are adaptable for various diets and filled with beautiful photographs that entice you to get into the kitchen and cook.

Until next time,
XO, Ani

If Hatch chiles are not in season, substitute banana wax chile peppers.

Prep time: 20 min / Total time: 1 hr. 50 min. / Serves 6 (2 thighs)

12 chicken thighs (about 5 pounds
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgen olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups seedless raspberry preserves
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 fresh Hatch chile peppers, roasted, peeled, stems and seeds removed, and diced)
2 lemons, juiced (about 6 tablespoons juice)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt. Heat oil and butter in a large flameproof roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add 6 pieces chicken; sear, about 5 minutes per side. Remove from pan and add remaining 6 pieces of chicken; repeat procedure. Return all chicken to roasting pan.
2. Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine preserves, vinegar, chile, and juice; cook just until boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat; simmer until slightly thickened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly.
3. Place preserves mixture in a blender*; process until slightly smooth (I skipped this step because I wanted to be able see the chile pieces in the final photograph). Pour preserves mixture over chicken; sprinkle evenly with paprika and cayenne pepper. Cover with foil; bake at 350ºF for 45 minutes. Uncover; bake until chicken is complexity cooked through and a meat thermometer inserted into theickes part reads 165ºF, about 15 minutes. Serve.

*Note: Be cautious when blending hot foods; the contents expand rapidly, causing a risk of scalding. To be safe, before blending, remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape), secure lid on blender, and place a towel over opening in lid (to avoid splatters).

Calories 740; fat calories 240; total fat 26g; sat fat 8 g; cholesterol 300mg; sodium 390mg; total carbohydrates 73g; fiber 1g; sugars 65g**; protein 53g; vitamin A IUs 25%; vitamin C 90%; calcium 2%; iron 15%

Recipe reprinted by permission of Melissa's Produce.

**Use preserves that are labeled no sugar added or sugar free or simply puree a pound of fresh raspberries to drastically reduce the sugar content and make this diabetic-friendly.

Disclosure: I received a copy of "The Great Pepper Cookbook" from Melissa's Produce for editorial consideration. I was not otherwise compensated. All statements made in this review are my own.