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One of my favorite things about farmers market is the aroma of roasting chile peppers. It charms the air with the fragrance of Old Mexico. But just how hot are those peppers?  

            When selecting peppers to take home, you might want to consider their rating on the Scoville scale. In 1912, Wilber Scoville, a chemist working for the Parke-Davis pharmaceutical company, developed a method to measure the heat of chile peppers. Scoville would blend pure ground chiles with sugar water and then a panel of "testers" sipped the solution in increasingly diluted concentrations until the liquid no longer burned their mouths. The "testers" would assign a number to each ground pepper solution based on the number of times it had to be diluted before they could no longer feel any heat.  

Today, Scoville's test has been upgraded to a more scientific and accurate method called liquid chromatography. This procedure measures the capsaicin levels in peppers-the substance that gives chile peppers their heat.  

Although the heat of any variety of chile peppers can fluctuate due to variations in growing conditions, soil and weather, the following ratings are general guidelines for measuring temperatures:

Sweet Bell Peppers
Cherry zero to 500
Anaheim 500 to 2,500
1,000 to 2,000
1,000 to 2,000
1,000 to 2,000
2,500 to 8,000
Hot Wax 5,000 to 10,000
Serrano 8,000 to 22,000
30,000 to 50,000
Thai 50,000 to 100,000
Habanero 150,000 to 575,000

One of my favorite ways to use roasted peppers from the market follows. It's a good idea to wear gloves when handling chile peppers that rank high on the Scoville scale. Once your hands have been in touch with hot peppers, do not touch delicate parts of your body, like your lips, eyes, or face. 

Chile Rellenos 

            8 fresh long green chiles, roasted and peeled
            8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
            8 eggs, separated
            1 cup flour
            Salt to taste
            Pepper to taste
            Vegetable oil for frying 

Smother with: 

            Green Chile (an easy recipe follows)
            2 cups Cheddar cheese, shredded 

Garnish with: 

            Diced tomatoes
            Shredded lettuce
            Sliced, pickled jalapeno peppers
            Sour cream

Slit roasted chiles down one side, being careful to make only one slit. Make the slit large enough to only allow room to fill roasted chiles with cheese. Beat egg whites until stiff. Beat egg yolks until very light. Add yolks to whites, beating constantly. Season flour with salt and pepper to taste. Dredge chiles in flour, then dip into the egg mixture. In a large skillet, fry two at a time over medium-high heat in ½-inch hot vegetable oil until golden. Turn once, browning both sides. 

For the green chile: 

It's fun to purchase a roasted chile from the market and substitute it for the canned version in this recipe. If you do this, use at least ¾ of a cup.  

            2 tablespoons vegetable oil
            2 pounds boneless pork chops, cut into bite-size pieces
            4 tablespoons flour
            1 can (28 ounces) peeled tomatoes
            1 can (28 ounces) water
            ¾ cup white onion, chopped
            1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chiles
            1 teaspoon minced garlic
            ½ teaspoon cumin
            Salt to taste
            Large grind black pepper to taste 

In a large kettle, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add bite-size pieces of pork and sauté until brown. Add flour, one tablespoon at a time, and continue to brown pork, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add peeled tomatoes by squeezing each tomato into the kettle, then add juices. Fill the peeled tomato can (28 ounces) with water and add water to the kettle, along with onion, green chiles, garlic, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for at least 1 hour. The longer this chile cooks, the better the flavor. 

To roast your own peppers: Grilling gives peppers a mellow, smoky flavor. They can be roasted by broiling them in the oven or browning them on a grill. The skin must be blackened before it can be peeled off. After grilling, place peppers in a brown bag to steam; this helps loosen the skin. 

Shopping: Select firm, plump chiles with shiny skin and a fresh smell. Do not buy wrinkled or soft chiles. Also, if the skin is mushy towards the stem end, or if the skin is soft or brown, the chile will be inferior. 

Storing: When placed in plastic bags in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator, chile peppers should keep up to 1 week. 

Carol Ann Kates is the author of award-winning cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market, selected as one of the top ten favorite cookbooks by the Denver Post.

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