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Knowing Your Mexican Chiles

By Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken, Helene Siegel

You can’t call yourself a true Mexican-food fanatic without knowing about the variety of chiles used in Mexican cuisine. These chiles, which are both dried and fresh, have a wide range of uses in Mexican cooking:

  • Ancho: The dried version the poblano green pepper. This wrinkled red-brown, wide-shouldered chile has a mellow, sweet flavor, similar to a bell pepper, with just a touch of heat.

  • Chile de arbol: Also known as dried red chiles. The papery thin, long, dried chiles sold by the bag in the supermarket.

  • Chile negro or dried pasilla: This long, narrow, dark brown chile is a dried chilaca chile. Similar in flavor to the more popular ancho, pasillas are often used in combination with other dried chiles in traditional moles.

  • Chipotle: Dried, smoked, red jalapeños. These wrinkled, reddish-brown chiles add a mysterious, smoky, sweet flavor to anything.

  • Habanero: This is one little pepper that lives up to its reputation. It’s pure heat. These small, lantern-shaped peppers are most often used in the Yucatán.

  • Jalapeño, red and green: A thick-fleshed, small (about 3-inch long), bright green or red pepper. Has a sweet, fresh, garden flavor and medium heat.

    Canned jalapeños are not a good substitute for fresh peppers because their taste and texture are quite different.

  • Morita: These small, brown, dried chiles look like thin chipotles but are less smoky with a spicier taste.

  • Poblano: Dark green, medium-sized, thick-fleshed chiles. Sometimes mislabeled pasilla in the West.

  • Serrano: Small, thin serranos are similar to jalapeños but pack a little more punch.