Give your summer meals an extra kick with chiles! Hundreds of varieties are available this time of year, each with a distinctive flavor and heat level. Start experimenting with them using our tips for choosing, prepping and cooking, and try them in our recipes below.
Look for: Select firm, bright chiles that are free of blemishes, moldy stems, soft spots or wrinkling. In general, the smaller and more pointed the chile, the hotter it is. Here’s a guide to some popular varieties shown in the image above:
- Anaheim: This long, green, mild to moderately spicy chile is found in most markets.
- Jalapeno: The most popular and widely available of fresh chiles, this tapered chile, 2-3 inches (5-7 1/2 cm.) in length, has thick flesh and varies in degree of hotness. You can find it in green and sweeter ripened red forms.
- Serrano: These slender chiles measure 1-2 inches (2 1/2-5 cm.) long and are very hot, with a brightly acidic flavor; they’re available in both green and ripened red forms.
- Poblano: This broad-shouldered, tapered, moderately hot chile is 5 inches (13 cm.) long and a polished deep green.
- Habanero: Renowned as the hottest of all chiles, this 2-inch (5-cm.) lantern-shaped variety combines its intense heat with flavors of tomatoes and tropical fruits. It can be found in unripe green and ripened yellow, orange and red forms.
- Ancho: The ancho is a dried poblano, measuring 4 1/2 inches (11.5 cm.) long, with wide shoulders and a wrinkled, deep reddish brown skin. It has a mild, bittersweet flavor reminiscent of chocolate.
- Pequin: Oval-shaped, light orange-red and small (about 1 1/2 inches/2 1/2 cm.), this chile is fiery, but the heat is short-lived.
- Chipotle: The smoke-dried form of the ripened jalapeno, this chile is rich in flavor and very hot. Sold in its dried form, it is typically a leathery brown, although some varieties are deep burgundy.
- Guajillo: Moderately hot, this burgundy chile is about 5 inches (13 cm.) long and tapered. It has brittle smooth skin and a sharp, uncomplicated flavor.
- Arbol: This smooth-skinned, bright reddish-orange chile measures about 3 inches (7 1/2 cm.) long, narrow in shape, and fiery hot.
- Pasilla: This skinny, wrinkled, raisin-black chile is about 6 inch es(15 cm.) long, with a sharp, fairly hot flavor.
Prep tips: After you buy them, store all types of chiles in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. A compound called capsaicin gives chiles their heat. It is concentrated inside the chiles, so to lessen their heat, trim off membranes and scrape away seeds. Since the heat from chiles can linger for hours on your skin, wear thin gloves or thoroughly wash your hands along with the cutting board and the knife as soon as you’ve finished working with them.
Uses: In addition to contributing heat and depth of flavor to sauces and salsas, chiles can be stuffed with cheese, meat, or vegetables and then fried or baked. Roasted and sliced into ribbons, milder chiles can be stirred into soups or tossed with shredded meat for tacos, sandwich fillings, or egg dishes.
|Cucumber and Chili Agua Fresca
Spiked with tequila and serrano chile, this cool and spicy cocktail makes a great summer refresher.
|Salsa de Arbol
This salsa, from Chef Traci Des Jardins, is made with arbol chilies—they’re quite hot, so add them to taste, depending on the level of spiciness you want.
|Chipotle-Black Bean Dip
This recipe calls for chipotle chilies in adobo sauce; these dried, smoked jalapeños are sold in cans, packed in an oniony tomato mixture.
|Cheddar and Corn Jalapeno Poppers
Filled with cheddar cheese, corn kernels and other savory ingredients, these fire-roasted peppers are the perfect appetizer.
|Chicken, Poblano and Corn Quesadillas
Combining grilled chicken, poblano peppers and sweet corn, these quesadillas make a delicious addition to a backyard fiesta. Grill the peppers to enhance the smoky flavor.
|Chopped Salad with Lemon-Chipotle Dressing
Bold chipotle chilies perk up the lemon-basil dressing for this big, hearty salad. Make it on a hot night when you don’t want to cook.
|Grilled Chicken with Ancho Barbecue Sauce
Ancho chilis can pack a bit of heat along with their natural sweetness, so they lend a wonderful balance of flavors to the marinade for this chicken dish.
|Grilled Chicken Skewers with Habanero Chili and Allspice
The warm flavor of allspice blends with the fiery heat of habanero chili in this rendition of Jamaican jerk seasoning. The heat is tempered by fresh-tasting green onions, salty soy sauce and sharp vinegar.
|Poblano Chilies Stuffed with Black Beans and Summer Squash
Broiling chilies until their skins blacken imparts an alluring smokiness. Here, zucchini, summer squash and roasted chilies are added to the hearty black-bean-and-rice filling, which is stuffed into whole chilies for a light, summery dish.
|Guajillo-Spiked Pork-and-Potato Tacos
The sauce for these tacos stars dried guajillo chilies, tomato and garlic for a savory, satisfying dish with just the right amount of heat.