Chillies and Southwestern Mexican Cuisine: A match made in taste bud heaven
Chillies and Southwestern Mexican Cuisine: A match made in taste bud heaven

What comes to mind when you think of the best Mexican southwestern cuisine in Singapore? Mexican, right? You probably think of Fajitas, Quesadillas, and Tostada. And all of them are generously flavoured with a defining spice - the unmistakable chillies (a.k.a. chiles).

Did you know that chillies come in various colours, shapes, and sizes, each with a unique taste? Each one also has a 'heat' level, the spice quotient. The flavour depends on whether the chilli is fresh or dried and can decide how it is used in Southwestern cuisine. To get a little scientific, Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) is how the spiciness of the chilli is measured, i.e., the concentration of capsaicin in it. The highest concentration of capsaicin is in the seeds and membranes of chilli peppers.

We are talking about the long green chillies or their mellower counterpart, red chillies. They can be used in sauces by using chopped, fresh green pods or their dried red cousins. The basic sauce recipe is the same regardless of green or red chillies. It has a base of oil with a bit of onion, garlic, or both, sometimes a bit of flour or cornstarch, and some stock or water. Almost every traditional dish, from enchiladas to burritos, is generously flavoured with chillies of one kind or another. Chillies are integral to contemporary dishes, too. The green sauce is hotter, while the red one tastes earthier and sweeter.

So, let’s take a deeper look into an important part of the best southwestern Mexican cuisine in Singapore.

Types of chillies

Chillies have been part of Southwestern cuisine from the beginning, and the serrano, cayenne, and chilli pequin are some of the chillies found throughout the Southwest.

Understanding the chillies used in this cuisine can help introduce the right amount of heat levels for everyone's taste.

Although the heat in different chilli varieties can vary, it is known that small peppers are hotter than large ones. But the same type of peppers can produce different heat levels. Finding just the right level for different palates is a matter of trying. Here are a few common chillies used in this cuisine:

  • Anaheim also called New Mexico or California chillies: They are fresh, bright green in colour, and around 6 inches long. They turn red when dried and have medium heat.
  • Cascabel: They are small, red, and round. They are dried chillies and very spicy.
  • Cayenne: Cayenne peppers are small, dried, and narrow. It is hot and can be ground into cayenne powder
  • Chipotle: Red Jalapeños are smoked and dried, and when it comes canned with tomato sauce, it is called en adobo.
  • Habanero: Habanero is fresh or dried, lantern-shaped, and comes from Yucatan. It is one of the hottest chillies
  • Jalapeño: This pepper is fresh or canned, small, and medium-hot. It originated in Jalapa in Mexico. The fresh red and green peppers are common, as are the canned ones.
  • Poblano: Poblano chillies are medium-hot, green, broad, and triangular. It is called Ancho when dried.
  • Serrano: They are dark green, slender, smaller than Jalapeños, but hotter.
  • Tepin: Tiny, dried chillies that are very hot can replace Cayenne and Pequin in a dish.
  • Pequin: Pequin is also used in place of Cayenne, and it is small, round, and dried red chillies.

Staples in Southwestern cuisine

Southwestern food, the best southwestern Mexican cuisine in Singapore, has a few staple ingredients, or 'three sisters' as they are called. The three sisters include corn, squash, and beans. The chef-driven Southwestern restaurants also favour traditional crops and livestock, be it beef tenderloin fajitas or chicken fajitas. But, none of them can give a dish that unique taste, not without chillies.

Southwestern food can be very hot or mildly spicy. Happily, even after removing the seeds to tone down the heat, you can still get the full flavour from the dish. It's as simple as that. There is no reason to go without your favourite enchiladas or burritos because the chilli may be too hot. 

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