It's here. After a delay of nearly two months, summer has arrived in the Northeast, and it is one hot and angry season now. There is a theory that you can trick your body into feeling cool and refreshed by sipping on chilled soup that zings with the heat of hot chile peppers. There is also another theory, that if you fall off a horse, you need to get back on to avoid the trauma that will haunt you for the rest of your life.
I am tackling the second theory first: my horse is the habañero chile. It's been two years since a sassy, fearless, and smug me slit open a clutch of cherry bombs without gloves on. I've never, despite the warnings, ever protected my hands against the volatile oils measured in various Scoville Units that spit at you while preparing any sort of hot pepper. I knew enough not to rub my eyes or mouth with my fingers, but the gods were snickering at me when the fumes rose up from under the running faucet where I was cleaning out the seed cavities. I needed a respirator. Seriously. The pain was real and merciless. Drinking anything just spread the misery. I laid on the couch for half an hour, weeping tears, not of onions, but of terror. There was nothing to do but wait it out. Do not try this at home.
I would probably still be stuck in time, nursing my self pity, had this month's No Croutons Required not put out the call for pepper recipes. I've never been one to opt for the easy way out and am always on the prowl for new culinary horizons. An Internet search quickly brought up this recipe. At first I had palpitations, especially when I read that it called for four to six of the fiendish fireballs, and even more so when I read the intro, which was a reassurance not to be alarmed by the number of chiles. So I felt the fear and did it anyway, my way, by reducing it down to just one chile.
I'm not going to lie to you. Even this level of heat has enough cumulative kick to smoke your sinuses, enough so that you will no longer feel those wretched summer temperatures suffocating you. Which just goes to prove that that other theory is correct, too. This recipe will have you blowing hot and cold.
Chilled Red Pepper Soup - Adapted from the Gourmet recipe
(If you follow all the precautions I have provided while preparing the chile, you should have a positive - and painless - experience.)
4 large red bell peppers
2 pounds tomatoes (I used canned Italian peeled tomatoes for expedience)
1 very large yellow onion (about 1/2 pound), chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 small habañero chile (1-2 tablespoons when finely chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups water
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Garnishes and Stir-ins (optional, but will soothe the heat somewhat)
Roast bell peppers over an open flame until uniformly charred, holding and turning them with a long-handled metal fork or tongs. If roasting indoors, ensure that your kitchen is well ventilated. Place charred peppers in a paper bag and fold over to seal. Set bag aside for at least ten minutes. Remove peppers from bag to a cutting board. The peppers will be collapsed and easy to peel. Discard the stems, membranes, seeds, and skins.
Prepare the habañero chile. Wearing disposable latex gloves and distancing your face as much as possible from your work area, cut off chile stem, then cut chile in quarters, trimming away membranes and seeds. Carefully discard these, ensuring you do not touch your face (especially your lips and eyes) with your hands. Finely chop chile and transfer to a small, dedicated bowl. Set aside. Carefully peel off gloves inside out from your hands and drop them directly into the garbage bin. Wash hands thoroughly before continuing.
In a large, heavy saucepan, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, chile (wash chile bowl immediately after emptying), salt and pepper, stirring occasionally until they are transparent and golden (about 10 minutes). Stir in bell pepper pieces, tomatoes, water, and bouillon cubes. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer until peppers and onions are very tender. Turn off heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Place saucepan in refrigerator until the contents are lukewarm. Purée soup in small batches in a blender. Pour purée into large bowl and return to refrigerator to fully chill. Serve with garnishes and crackers. Serves 4. --
This recipe is for Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes who co-hosts No Croutons Required, the monthly vegetarian salad and soup event, with Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen. The August theme is peppers.