New World Peppers

Kristina’s Bookshelf

Peppers of the Americas:
The Remarkable Capsicums
that Forever Changed Flavor

By Maricel El Presilla
(Ten Speed Press, 2017) 

When I’m shopping at Mi Tierra Foods or Monterey Market, I’m always intrigued by the assortment of El Guapo and El Mexicano brands of dried, whole peppers in cellophane bags with green, red, and white banners along the top. Oaktown Spice Shop (on Solano in Berkeley and across from Lake Merritt in Oakland) also carries a wide selection of dried and ground peppers. Their constantly changing selection typically includes one or two dozen varieties, like the fruity, all-purpose aji amarillo and aji panca; New Mexican green chilis; and the chile pasilla de Oaxaca, a smoke-dried pepper that cooks love for its deep flavor. Oaktown helpfully puts a Scoville heat listing on the packaging for most of their peppers. I’ve used some of the better-known varieties like chipotle and chile negro, hydrating them in warm water and then pulsing them in the blender or food processor to add to soups and salsas. But I’ve wondered about the flavors and uses of some of the others, so I’m pleased to see this new book.

Maricel El Presilla’s Peppers of the Americas is a useful volume for anyone who would like to know more about the fruits of the capsicum family. El Presilla, a three-time James Beard Award–winning author and chef-restaurateur, offers his culinary and botanical encyclopedia illuminating more than 200 varieties of peppers found in the Americas. It’s a helpful, well-researched guide to all those beautiful dried peppers found in shops. Winner of the 2018 International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Cookbook Award in the “Reference & Technical” category, the 341-page tome also includes more than 40 recipes for spice blends, salsas, sauces, and other dishes. Recipes make use of lesser-known peppers in regional dishes, like Guatemalan Chile Cobán and Cacao Condiment, a powdered mix made from dried chiles Coban or chiltepines, cacao nibs, salt, and smoked hot or sweet paprika that can be used to flavor cut fruits or to season soups and stews. With extensive photographs, tasting notes, and heat levels, the book will be of interest to anyone looking to learn more about the increasing variety of peppers found on menus and in markets.

Edible East Bay’s book editor Kristina Sepetys is eager to share her ideas and book recommendations with
our readers.