Chile Dulce, Bell Pepper Salsa
Chile Dulce, bell pepper, was common at our kitchen table when I was growing up in San Antonio. Caldos and guisados feature chile dulce, and as a stand-alone dish the chile can be stuffed with a meat filling. This bell pepper salsa has lots of capsicum, chile, flavor but no heat, the benefit being that you can have lots of flavor but keep the heat low, according to your taste, by adding diced Jalapeño a little bit at a time.
Bell pepper (Capsicum Annum) is unlike the other chiles of the Capsicum family which contain the chemical, capsaicin (methyl vanillyl nonenamide), that burns your mouth. (NOTE: Not to be confused with the ají dulce, Capsicum chinense, that is similar to this bell pepper)
Bell pepper has the capsaicin gene but it’s regressive and so does not produce the burning chemical. The New World Encyclopedia explains capsaicin clearly, if clinically: “It’s a lipophilic chemical that produces the burning sensation in the mouth (and, if not properly digested, the anus) of the unaccustomed eater.”
Capsicum stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes. It’s the way that the plant protects itself from most mammals who, of course, don’t want to burn their mouth, and so stay away. However, birds don’t feel the burn of the capsaicin, so they gobble up the colorful chiles, and transport the seeds through their gut to places far away, a great way for the chiles to propagate. Nature is pretty smart.
Native to Mexico and Central America, chile dulce seeds were carried to Spain in 1493 and from there spread to European and Asian countries. It has acquired many names: Paprika in the US and Hungary and the Netherlands; in France it is “poivron” or “piment,” in Japan it’s ピーマン (“pîman,”) and in Russia, болгарский перец (bolgarskiy perets), meaning Bulgarian pepper.
Salsa is not traditionally made with bell pepper but I wanted to explore the flavor, combined with the heat from a bit of Jalapeño. You’ll find it resembles, somewhat, a tomatillo salsa. I boil the chile for an hour to cook out all the green bitterness. I love it on grilled meat tacos and on grilled vegetables.
Recipe for Chile Dulce, Bell Pepper Salsa
Ingredients (makes 1 1/2 cups)
2 green bell peppers
1/4 small onion
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tsp white distilled white vinegar
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 tsp minced Jalapeño chile (add more, 1/2 tsp at a time, if you want more Jalapeño flavor and heat.)
1. Remove the outer stem from the bell peppers and slice them in half. Place them in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour.
2. During the last 30 minutes of simmering, add the onion and garlic cloves. Drain onto a colander and allow to cool. Peel the garlic.
4. Place the chile dulce, onion and garlic in a blender and add the vinegar, lemon juice, Jalapeño, salt and blend until smooth. Taste the level of heat and if you want it stronger, keep adding more minced Jalapeños 1/2 tsp at a time.
Taste and adjust the salt. You can serve it hot or at room temperature.