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If Jeff Bezos can use the word “complexifier,” can I use the word “commonality?”  Can Andy in Andy’s Corner talk about the lack of commonality in our memories?

Harking back to my teaching days, I have a foodie test question for you:  What commonality do carrots, beets, asparagus, and chiles share?

Ahhhh, I just know you’d get it right – especially if you weren’t overthinking and looking for a real scientific-based explanation.  My answer?  They all can make your body react in a strange way.

Actually, the scientific explanations are worth a read.  It’s all about Capsaicins, CarotenoidsAsparagusic acid, and Betalains.  Don’t you love the “asparagusic acid” label?  Even I could have thought up that one.  You can find out even more from this L.A. Times article.

Since basically you don’t really need to worry about the impact carrots, beets, and asparagus have on your body (as long as you don’t ridiculously overdo carrot-eating or have a heart attack that moment in the bathroom when you forgot you just ate beets), I want to talk a little about chiles.  Or about the time we were visiting our son, Travis, who was living in the Pilsen district of Chicago – and we visited the fabulous Mexican/Black/Jewish farmers’ market, Maxwell Street.  And I rubbed my eyes after eating tacos served with some some fresh chiles.  And about the misery I experienced for the remainder of our Chicago trip.

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We were at Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market – but don’t know whether Rubi’s existed then.  Apparently their tacos are amazing.  Just watch out for chiles!

What’s an eater/cook to do to help herself when touched by the evil capsaicin? It’s all about milk.  Definitely not water.  Of course, washing your hands over and over with soap and water after handling chiles is a given.  But if you forgot and your eyes are stinging, a paper towel soaked in a little milk and gently rubbed around your eye might help.  If your mouth is on fire, try drinking a little milk.  Again, not water.  Leave it to the American Chemical Society to provide a fun little essay on the topic of capsaicin.

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When we helped our daughter, Sara, with the Tacolicious cookbook, we had lots of discussions about how to prepare chiles for recipes.  Do you remove the seeds?  Yes, most definitely, unless you like unbearably hot.  Do you remove the membrane too?  Ahhh, there’s the rub (but don’t rub your eyes! :).  According to various reports (here’s one), we have been misled when we believe all the spice is in the seeds.  In fact, much of the heat is in the membrane, which, consequently, should definitely also be removed.

And one last note.  The heat of fresh chiles is incredibly and disturbingly inconsistent.  Whenever you’re using them in a recipe start with a little, then taste, and then add more  – gradually.  Don’t ruin an entire dish by dumping in the recipe’s given amount, when the recipe may call for far too much, given the heat of that specific pepper.

We’ve previously posted some great recipes making good use of these four body-changing ingredients.   And we’ve got several more recipes to add to the mix.  Since spring has sprung and asparagus is just hitting the markets, we suggest you roast a bunch or two (we’ve posted the recipe – so easy and so delicious) and then use the leftovers in a simple salad – recipe provided below – from Madhur Jaffrey, who is 85-years-young and just got written up in the NYTimes because she did a rap on YouTube.  I want to be her.

And as for chiles, we’ve got another winner – this time from the Chef-of-the-Moment, Samin Nosrat.  The recipe follows these “favs:”


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Lovely little piece of art by Melinda Hall of Santa Fe.  Helps remind us that Anchos are simply dried Poblanos.

Nosrat maintains this is the most versatile recipe in her very popular cookbook SaltFatAcidHeat.

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Guajillo chiles – the dried form of mirasol chiles.  These and fresh poblanos (or dried as anchos) are commonly used in Mexican cooking.

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Braised Pork with Chiles over rice


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Taco – Braised Pork with Chiles

Braised Pork with Chiles

This makes a LOT.  You can freeze half,  but I think the recipe would also work fine with a 2 lb roast, with a somewhat-reduced cooking time.  Also, chicken legs can be substituted for the pork. Recipe very slightly adapted from Samin Nosrat and SaltFatAcidHeat
  • about 4 lbs boneless pork shoulder roast, salted in advance with 1 tsp salt per pound of meat
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, sliced
  • 1 head garlic, sliced “through the equator” as Nosrat says
  • 2 c crushed tomatoes in their juice, fresh or canned
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1 T smoked paprika (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 dried chiles, such as Guajillo, New Mexico, Anaheim, or Ancho, stemmed, seeded and rinsed
  • 2-3 cups lager or pilsner beer
  • for garnish (which we think is essential): chopped cilantro, Mexican crema (or yogurt or sour cream) and slices of lime; for tacos also add some slivered cabbage

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Set an oven-proof Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  When it’s warm, add the vegetable oil.  When the oil shimmers, place the pork in the pan.  Brown it evenly on all 4 sides, about 3-4 minutes per side.

When the meat is brown, remove it and set it aside.  Remove all but a couple of tablespoons of fat from the pan.  Return the pan to the stove, reduce the heat to medium.  Cook the onions and garlic until they are tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and juice, cumin, paprika, bay leaves, and dried chilies into the pot and stir.  Place the pork atop the aromatic base, and add enough beer to come 1½ inches up the sides of the meat.  Make sure the peppers and bay leaves are mostly immersed in the juices so that they do not burn.

Increase heat and bring to a boil, then put the pot, uncovered, into the oven.  About every 30 minutes, turn the pork over and check the level of the liquid, adding more beer as needed. Cook until the meat is tender and falls apart at the touch of a fork, 3½ to 4 hours. (Note: if you’re using chicken, cook until the meat falls off the bone; it will be a much shorter time than for the pork.)

Remove the cooked pork from the oven and carefully remove it from the pan.  Strain the cooking liquid and aromatics through a large-hole strainer, pressing on them to remove as much juice as possible.  Skim the fat from the liquid (or better yet, refrigerate it until the fat has come to the top, then skim it);

Shred the meat – and combine it with the sauce  – and use it for pork burritos or tacos (add some slivered cabbage, diced onion, hot sauce and lime) or serve the pork and sauce over rice, adding a little beer if more liquid is needed.  Garnish as suggested.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.

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Roasted Asparagus used in Cold Asparagus Salad

Super Simple Roasted Asparagus

We recommend you double the recipe and have some roasted and later use the leftovers in the Cold Asparagus Salad.

  • 1 lb fresh asparagus
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Heat the oven to 400 degrees

Lay the asparagus spears in a single layer on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat the spears. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until barely tender.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.

Cold Asparagus Salad

If you want something more substantial than a salad, you can double or triple the dressing recipe, cook some egg or rice noodles, toss the dressing and noodles together with the asparagus, and have another easy meal. Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook

the salad dressing (mix ingredients together well)

  • 1 T soy sauce
  •  1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp Chinese Shao Hsing (Chinese rice wine) or dry sherry or mirin (Japanese rice wine)
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil (or less, to taste)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • dash of toasted sesame seeds (optional)
  • arugula (optional)
  • 1 lb of cooked asparagus

Use your previously roasted and chilled asparagus – either whole or cut up – and gently toss with the dressing.  Serve as is – or chopped and over arugula.  Garnish with sesame seeds, if you wish.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.



  1. Janet says:

    The taco signs made me think of a Boise Mexican restaurant. The servers wear t-shirts reading: “Taco Emergency? Call Nine Juan Juan.”


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