Saturday, February 16, 2013

Secrets of Chile revealed

By S. Derrickson Moore LAS CRUCES — Chef Clint Kifolo worked his usual magic at the Chile Pepper Institute’s 2013 New Mexico Chile Leaders Dinner at Stan Fulton Center. The annual February fiery feast starred chile in every course, starting with the NuMex Heritage 6-4 Green Chile Bisque. We were served shallow white bowls with pretty little piles of green chile, and what looked like a salsa mix of finely chopped colorful veggies and tiny tortilla strips. Then, we were encouraged to “play with your food” as servers poured hot cream over the bounty, while we stirred enthusiastically. The resulting bisque was one of the tastiest chile treats of a lifetime. There was a lettuce and tomato salad ignited with red chile ranch dressing and maple chile candied bacon, followed by the entree: pecan crusted chicken breast with a demi-glace of Holy Jolokia chile and cranberry, accompanied by cheese grits and grilled zucchini plants to cool our palates. Whew! ¡Y Olé! Then came an artfully arranged plate of warm goat’s milk ricotta with Holy Jolokia chile-orange marmalade and brown rice flatbread (the entire dinner was not only superbly chile-enhanced, but also gluten-free). Dessert was a chocolate cake served with potent dots of “Sancto Scorpion Fudge Sauce,” spiked with Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Red, announced as contender for the world’s hottest chile pepper at the institute’s 2012 Chile Leaders Dinner. As always, those chile people know how to show a girl a good time … and this year, Chile Pepper Institute director and NMSU Regents Professor Paul Bosland ended the dinner and kicked off the 2013 New Mexico Chile Conference with another even-hotter-than dinner revelation: the successful completion of the chile genome project. “We’ve now determined that the chile pepper has approximately 3.5 billion base pairs, which are the building blocks that make up the DNA double helix, compared to tomatoes, which have about 950 million,” Bosland announced. (I quickly consulted my soulmate Dr. Roger, a physician whose board certifications include genetics. As I expected, Roger was able to instantly tell me how many base pairs humans have: a mere 3 billion, half a billion less than our chile amigos.) Bosland continued the comparison: “The Human Genome Project determined we have about 20,000 genes. Chile peppers have about 37,000 genes. Whether that means chiles are more evolved than we are, I don’t know,” he quipped. I’ve been pondering that ever since. I’ve long known that chiles in general — and green chiles in particular — make everything better, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and even some beers and wines. And those vitamin-packed, endorphin-rush-inducing peppers also improve our health and sense of well-being. In my decades on the chile beat, I’ve talked to researchers who have praised and documented chile’s ability to cure diseases, jump-start those loving feelings, repel pests and delight cows (who are reportedly happier when chile is added to their feed). To say nothing of attracting thousands to tiny villages to celebrate fiestas in their honor. And decorating our lives in colorful wreaths and ristras. And now, it seems, we are just beginning to understand and help fully realize the potentials of our genetically sophisticated pepper pals. Here in the home of the Chile Pepper Institute, in Chile Capital of the World territory, I figure we have front row seats for the next evolutionary leaps. I can’t wait. S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore

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