Chile Petin Roasted Squash & Bell Peppers
Chile Petin, Petín, also called piquín and chiltepin, is native to the area around Brownsville, Texas and its border sister, Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Actually it grows wild all over Texas, New Mexico, Southern Arizona, throughout all of Mexico and has for centuries. Its scientific name is Capsicum annuum var. aviculare and it grows as a bush, up to 3 or 4 feet tall. It has many names, as many as there are indigenous languages in Mexico: cahuas, cahuasa (in the Tarascan language), cancol (tepehuana language), cucúrite (huichol language), I’k, chack-ik (maya language), chil (náhuatl dialect), dya-ah (mixteca language), guiná, guiñá (zapotec language), gu’ucuri (cora language), Ich (tzeltal language), ñi (otomí language), Itz (huasteca language), and in the totonacan language it is stilampin.
The cultural importance of chile tepín in the Mexican American community of Texas (the Texanas,os) is immense. The stories and memories span generations and speak to chile petín being part of our life fabric. I heard from Bitty Truan, who lives in Brownsville, that her family had so many growing that they would harvest them and keep them in jars of vinegar so that they could enjoy them through the winter months.Pairing this chile with vinegar not only preserves it, but beautifully enhances the flavor, an herbal, green taste, similar to that of Serrano. You’ll taste the subtle flavor in this recipe for roasted calabacita (squash) and chile dulce, (bell pepper).
Chile Petín Stories from Texanas, Texanos
These are some of the stories that I’ve been told and they are among many that are repeated, with lots of smiles, from friend to friend, from generation to generation in Mexican American communities of Texas.
Esmeralda Gonzalez who is from Pecos, Texas, recalls that her dad, Benjamin, had a plate of chile petin on the kitchen table drying.
“He would crush them, then put it in a jar, put the lid on and punch holes so he could sprinkle it on everything.”
Benjamin now lives in San Antonio, where at home he continues to grind the chile, and sprinkles it on eggs, tacos and just about everything.
“when we were kids my cousins and I would see who could eat the most until one of us gave up. Fun game.”
Fun indeed! And lastly, Anna Martinez Amos from McAllen writes about her mom and dad who have both passed, en paz descansan, that her mom, María Martínez, always had a bush growing in the yard outside the kitchen door. Anna recalls that
“it was my job to go and pick a handful for the salsita she made for our meals. My dad [Guillermo] would come home for lunch so she’d make one batch in the molcajete at noon, then another in the evening for dinner. My mom decided to make a larger amount and to make the salsa hotter by adding more chilies. She was trying to make it so that she only had to make the salsa once. She warned my dad that it was going to be hotter than usual and that he should leave some for the evening meal. Despite the heat, apparently it was too delicious to resist.
“I remember seeing him dabbing his sweating forehead and sucking air through his teeth as he proceeded to eat the whole molcajete full. She still had to make more para la cena (for dinner) that night! She went back to making salsa twice a day every day after that little experiment.”
Chile petín and all of our foods are always part of our social fabric, defining who we are, grounded in memory. When you make these roasted calabacitas and chile dulce, go slow and make cooking joyful. You are making memories.
Recipe for Chile Tepin Roasted Calabacita and Bell Peppers
2 calabacitas, “tatuma,” but zucchini are fine
1 bell pepper
1 Tbs canola oil or extra virgin olive oil
8 chile tepíns
1 Tbs vinegar that has been used to preserve the chile petíns, or just plain white vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1. In a molcajete, grind the chile tepín and vinegar into a smooth liquid, with no large specks, set aside.
2. Place the bell pepper under a broiler and roast it, turning it so that all sides get blackened and blister. Remove and cover them with a damp cloth for 15 minutes. Remove the cloth, and peel off the skin and remove all the seeds. Slice the roasted bell pepper lengthwise into 1/2 strips. IMPORTANT: If the chiles are not completely cooked (they should be totally soft and an earthy green color, not bright green), be ready to cook them more later if necessary, see #4. Place them in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Wash the calabacitas and slice each lengthwise into four wedges. Add the wedges to the bowl, together with the bell peppers, add 1 Tbs canola or extra virgin olive oil and toss so that all sides are coated. If needed, add a little more oil.
4. Heat a skillet or griddle on medium heat and add the squash wedges, turning them so that they roast on all sides. Cook for about 5-10 minutes so that they develop color but still hold their shape and are not completely soft. ALSO THE CHILES: If the chiles did not completely cook under the broiler, to the point that they are absolutely soft, place the bell pepper strips in the skillet together with the squash. Make sure they are fully cooked, soft and fleshy. You may have to remove the squash before the chiles are cooked, so let the strips continue to roast an additional 10 minutes or so, until fully cooked and with their flavor and color developed.
5. Return the squash wedges with the bell pepper, to the bowl. Add the chile tepín and vinegar and toss to coat.
You can serve these at room temperature or chill them. They will hold in the refrigerator for a day or two. These are a great appetizer, and they also make an excellent platter for a buffet lunch or dinner.