When I first tasted a fresh-roasted Hatch chile in Santa Fe, N.M., more than two decades ago, I fell hard and fast. I loved its light green color, the bits of black char stuck to the flesh and its unique, almost grassy flavor.
As much as I loved the heat of the jalapeño, what I liked about the Hatch was that it wasn't too fiery; this was a chile I could eat every day. The broad-shouldered chile with a soft, predictable heat and I were meant for each other, it seemed.
Luckily for the two of us, I traveled back and forth to New Mexico frequently, and our relationship deepened and grew. When I was in Santa Fe or Albuquerque, I'd order as much of the green chile as I could.
But this wasn't enough. I didn't want a long-distance relationship. So I started bringing packages of frozen Hatch green chiles back to my home in Dallas, wrapped in foil, then hand-carried on the plane ride home. This worked just fine until I moved to Paris, where of course, there's no such thing as a Hatch green chile (or a jalapeño, either, but don't get me started).
Happily, right now, I'm still in Texas, and this season's crop just arrived from the small town of Hatch, in the southernmost part of New Mexico, where the nights are cool and the sunlight is intense -- perfect chile-growing conditions. Right now, they're available fresh (and raw) or already roasted at Central Market and Whole Foods Market stores.
So far, I've made two trips to each store and bought all of the containers of roasted chiles marked "Hot" that I could find. I'm cooking with them daily and stuffing as many as I can into my mom's freezer (and others), and will continue to do so until I'm out of space -- and time.
Like so many things, chile season is brief and precious. So I'm putting Hatch green chiles on salads, and folding chopped chiles into salsas that are more Tex-Mex than New Mex. I'm toying with a green chile-laced chocolate sauce and a savory cake made with green chiles and blue corn.
But it's still hot in Texas, which makes me wonder ... green chile ice cream? I just might.
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of "Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent" (Running Press, $25); www.cowgirlchef.com
Hatch green chile salsa
1 pound tomatillos
1 medium onion, outer skin left on
3 cloves garlic, skins removed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
5 to 6 roasted Hatch green chiles, skins removed and chopped
1. On a comal or in a cast-iron skillet, and without any added oil, roast tomatillos, onion and garlic until charred on each side. Remove and put in a blender with the sea salt and blend until smooth.
2. Pour into a bowl and stir in the chopped green chiles. Taste for seasonings and serve immediately.
Cowgirl tip: This salsa is great with chips, served over enchiladas, or on grilled fish, shrimp or chicken.
Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 9 calories, trace fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 30 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 14 percent of calories from fat.
Spinach, sweet potato and Hatch green chile salad with warm bacon vinaigrette
1 pound sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
1 shallot (about 1 tablespoon), finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lime (about 1 tablespoon) plus the zest
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 pound baby spinach
2 Hatch green chiles, chopped
1 green onion, sliced (white part only)
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
6 slices bacon
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a cookie sheet with foil. Lay sweet potatoes on the cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss with your hands so they're evenly coated. Bake for 30-40 minutes, flipping the potatoes over about halfway through so they brown evenly.
2. While the potatoes are roasting, make vinaigrette. Put chopped shallot, mustard, lime juice and zest, sherry vinegar, and a big pinch of salt and pepper in a jam jar, and shake until combined. Let rest for about 10 minutes, then add the grapeseed oil. Set aside for now.
3. Put the baby spinach, Hatch green chiles, green onion and pine nuts in a big salad bowl.
4. Fry up bacon, and reserve the leftover grease in the skillet. Crumble the bacon on top of the salad.
5. Add the still-warm sweet potatoes to the bowl, too.
6. Reheat the bacon grease over medium-low heat, and add the vinaigrette to the skillet. Let it warm through, pour on salad, toss and serve.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4 salads: 564 calories, 48 grams fat, 27 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 226 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 75 percent of calories from fat.