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Hatch chiles from New Mexico star in soups, burgers, dips and more

If you've traveled to New Mexico in late summer, you know the particular joy of smelling freshly roasting green chiles at roadside markets. Those who haven't enjoyed such aromatic getaways only have to head to a handful of places around here to pick up that spice-spiked, smoky scent.

The celebratory season of chiles from Hatch, N.M., is under way now in Texas. Officially known as the chile capital of the world, Hatch -- roughly 85 miles north of El Paso -- ships thousands of pounds of these long, slim green jewels here for our appreciative palates. Specialty grocery markets and restaurants featuring Hatch chiles will lure you with the smell and taste of these mild- to medium-hot chiles, preparing them in a surprising number of recipes.

Somewhat similar to Anaheim chiles, Hatch chiles are produced in four varieties: mild, also called the New Mexico No. 20, with virtually no heat; medium, or Big Jim, measuring 7 to 10 inches in length, with a little snap to its flavor; hot, or Sandia, which can be pretty spicy; and extra-hot, or Barker, considered the variety for serious heat fiends.

The Hatch chiles that you find around North Texas during this season are usually the Big Jim variety. Blue Mesa Grill's five locations, for instance, use the Big Jim chile in their special Hatch season menu, which includes pozole; chiles rellenos stuffed with Oaxaca cheese, smoked chicken or shrimp; steak relleno tacos; stacked enchiladas; and beef tenderloin medallions with Hatch chiles rellenos.

Whole Foods Market brings in an assortment of organic Hatch varieties and offers a number of recipes and prepared foods that incorporate the chiles. Central Market, which launches its 15th annual Hatch Chile Festival on Wednesday, imports 250,000 Hatch chiles for cooking demos, sampling and preparing in flour tortillas, salsas and dozens of other dishes that you can take home for supper. Both stores will sell plenty of Hatch chiles, too, for you to take home and freeze for using throughout the year.

Here are some ways for you to enjoy Hatch chiles whenever the mood strikes.

Central Market's melon-Hatch salsa

Pairing well with grilled salmon, shrimp, salmon and pork tenderloin, this salsa was created last summer by "Foodies" from the Plano Central Market.

4 Hatch chiles, very fine dice

2 cups watermelon, 1/4-inch dice

1 cup peaches, peeled, 1/4-inch dice

1 sweet red onion, 1/4-inch dice

1 teaspoon orange zest

2 tablespoons lime juice

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

Salt to taste

1. For the Hatch peppers, you may use fresh or roasted; for more heat, use the seeds. Finely dice the peppers; they should be the size of peppercorns.

2. In a large bowl gently mix together watermelon, peaches, peppers, onion and zest. Pour in lime juice and stir. Add cilantro and salt; taste for seasoning and adjust. Cover and chill for 2 hours, or overnight if possible.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 45 calories, trace fat, 10 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 6 percent of calories from fat.

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