Jalapeños can add an element of heat to dishes

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

With all due respect to Mrs. Gump, my mama always said life was like a box of jalapeños: You never know how spicy it is going to be until you bite into one.

And that’s the problem with jalapeños in general. You could have two of the peppers side by side, identical in every way. You bite into one, and it produces a pleasant, faint tingle on your tongue. Then you nibble on the other, and it melts your ears.

Jalapeños are a most inconstant fruit. So why do we love them?

Because they are just that good.

In my youth, I occasionally used to eat entire jalapeños raw. We all do stupid things when we are young, and that was one of mine. I didn’t enjoy it, but I thought I should.

Fortunately, I am older and wiser now. I take my peppers in smaller doses. I also make absolutely certain to wash my hands thoroughly and then wash them again whenever I touch a jalapeño that has been cut open. That’s a mistake that you only make once.

During my exploration of jalapeños, I made jalapeño-cilantro pickled corn which, for all its fancy name, is just corn relish with a little bit of a kick, but not much. What it does have is a delightful, fresh flavor, with just enough acid in the pickling liquid to give it a little bit of an edge.

I also made a green harissa, which turns out to be almost entirely unlike a regular harissa.

Harissa is a staple of North Africa, a condiment used in vegetable dishes, on grilled meat, as a dip with bread and more. A red paste, it is fiery hot with a pleasantly smoky flavor.

Gjusta’s Green Harissa, on the other hand, is mild and earthy in taste. It is almost like a pesto, with chopped arugula, cilantro and parsley, plus garlic and a single jalapeño. I has little heat, but it does offer a solidly satisfying flavor.

Though green harissa is unlike red harissa in flavor, it is every bit as versatile. You can use it in vegetable dishes, on grilled meat, spread over fish, as a dip with bread, with eggs and more.

I tried it with chicken, and it was terrific.

If you’re looking for a side dish, try baked fingerling potatoes with jalapeños.

The jalapeño is added at the end, in thin slices. It adds a nice little counterpoint of heat.

But frankly, the dish is glorious enough without it. If you don’t like it hot, just leave it out.

Jalapeno-Cilantro Pickled Corn

Yield: 16 servings

4 ears of corn

1/2 small onion (yellow or red), thinly sliced

1 jalapeño, thinly sliced

4 large sprigs cilantro

1 cup distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 (1-quart) canning jar or 2 (1-pint) jars with lids

Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Cook corn in a large pot of boiling water until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Set in ice bath to cool. Drain; cut kernels from cobs and place in a large bowl. Add onion, jalapeño and cilantro, and mix well. Transfer mixture to jar or jars.

Bring vinegar, salt, sugar and

2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Pour hot brine over mixture in jar, and cover. Let cool, then chill. Will keep in refrigerator for 2 months.

Per serving: 24 calories; 1 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 1,518 mg sodium; no cal-cium

Gjusta’s Green Harissa

Yield: 24 servings

1/2 onion, halved

1 tomatillo, husk removed, rinsed

1 jalapeño, halved, seeds removed from 1 half

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups cilantro leaves, with tender stems

2 cups parsley leaves with tender stems

2 cups arugula

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest or

1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss onion, tomatillo, jalapeño and garlic in 1 tablespoon of the oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing once, until vegetables are soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Place vegetables in a food processor along with cilantro, parsley, arugula, vinegar, lemon zest and remaining 1/2 cup of oil. Puree until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Per serving: 10 calories; 1 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 1 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 124 mg sodium; 12 mg cal-cium

Fingerlings With Jalapeños

Yield: 8 servings

3 pounds fingerling potatoes, halved crosswise if large

1/2 cup olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced into rounds, seeds removed if desired

1/4 cup (lightly packed) chopped parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss potatoes with 1/4 cup of the oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown and tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly, then lightly flatten.

Meanwhile, whisk vinegar and mustard in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in remaining 1/4 cup oil until emulsified; season with salt and pepper. Add potatoes, jalapeno and parsley, and toss. Season with salt and pepper.

Per serving: 137 calories; 2 g fat;

1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 3 g protein; 27 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 52 mg sodium; 21 mg calcium

— All recipes from Bon Appetit