Pungent Picnics

Fiery Foods Manager In the Kitchen with Chile Peppers Leave a Comment

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by Nancy Gerlach, Fiery-Foods.com Food Editor Emeritus

     Recipes in this Issue:

  • Marinated Jalapeño Mushrooms

  • Cool and Hot Tomato Soup

  • Crispy Coleslaw with Cucumber Chile Dressing

  • Jalapeño Corn Muffins with Chile Orange Butter

  • Thai Chile and Artichoke Pasta Salad


Summer has arrived and, after a long winter of being “cooped-up” indoors, I’m ready to get outside and enjoy the season.

And summer for me means moving my “kitchen” outdoors and savoring my meals outside. This includes not only barbecuing and grilling, but also packing up a basket of food, hopping in the car, and taking off for picnic.

A picnic away from day-to-day stress and pressures is a great way to slow down and relax. It’s rather like a vacation–a very short vacation–but one none the less. A picnic can be anywhere–by a beach, in the mountains, a park across town, or even in your own backyard. After all, what is the definition of a picnic but just eating outdoors?

The origin of picnics remains murky but the word “pique-nique” first appears in 16th century France. And they have perfected the art of the truly elegant picnic. In my travels through France, I’ve marveled at their seemingly impromptu meals by the side of a road complete with cloth napkins, china dishes, and of course, crystal glasses and wine. But picnics don’t need to be elaborate, they can be as simple as a sandwiches served off the tailgate of a truck, but the menu should always contain foods that can be prepared ahead of time or assembled at the last minute, are easily packed, transported, and served.

The most important consideration with any picnic is food safety. With the wide assortment of inexpensive insulating containers available, it is easy and safe to take both hot and cold foods on outings these days. There however are a few basic rules that need to be followed. Remember that the container will only maintain temperatures. If the food is to be served cold, prepare the items well in advance so that they may be thoroughly chilled; pack with ice or frozen ice packs, and pack the most perishable closest to the ice. When you reach your picnic site, keep the cooler in the shade and avoid repeated openings. And if the food is to be served hot, heat the hot food to as high a temperature as possible and then wrap the dish in heavy aluminum foil before placing in an insulated container.

With a little organization, packing for a picnic is a breeze. Divide everything that needs to be transported into three categories. The first group is the serviceware, dishes, napkins and condiments like salt and pepper. Next are the foods that are safe at room temperature such as chips and cookies. And finally is the group that should always be the last to be packed, the perishable foods that need to stay hot or cold. Another advantage of a little organization before leaving for your picnic is that setting up and serving is also easier.

Whether you are putting together a traveling menu or sharing food with friends at a picnic in your own back yard, food just always seems to taste better when eaten outdoors. So take advantage of a beautiful day, pack a meal and enjoy one of summer’s most wonderful traditions, a picnic.

Marinated Jalapeño Mushrooms

This marinated appetizer will keep for a long time and is better if made up a day in advance to allow the flavors to be absorbed by the mushrooms. It should be transported in a cooler but is best served at room temperature.

  • 4 canned jalapeños, drained and chopped, liquid reserved

  • ½ lemon

  • 1 ½ pounds button mushrooms, sliced

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon reserved jalapeño liquid

  • 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne chile

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 ounces Roquefort or Bleu cheese, crumbled

  • 2 green onions, sliced including some of the green

  • Garnish: Chopped parsley

Place the mushrooms in a bowl and squeeze the lemon over them to keep them from turning brown.

In another bowl, whisk the mustard, jalapeno liquid, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon water together until well mixed. Whisk in the oil in a thin stream to form an emulsion. Season the dressing with the cayenne, salt, and pepper. Stir in the jalapeños, cheese, and onions.

Pour the dressing over the mushrooms and toss well to coat. Allow the mushrooms to sit at room temperature for an hour to blend the flavors.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Cool and Hot Tomato Soup

This refreshing, easy-to-prepare chilled soup actually needs to be made the day before to allow the flavors to blend. Make the soup a little thinner than you normally would as it will thicken some as it cools. For a creamier soup, stir in plain yogurt before serving.

  • 1/4 cup chopped onion

  • 1 stalk celery, chopped

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 pound Roma tomatoes, peeled and seeds removed

  • 2 chipotle in adobo chiles, stems removed

  • ½ teaspoon sugar

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin

  • 2 cups beef broth

  • 1 cup red wine (optional)

  • Garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the onion, celery, and garlic until softened. Add the tomatoes, chiles, sugar, cilantro, cumin, and broth. Raise the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Place the mixture in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Strain the soup and thin do desired consistency with wine, additional broth or water.

Chill the soup for at least an hour or overnight.

Garnish with chopped cilantro before serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Crispy Coleslaw with Cucumber Chile Dressing

This dressing also goes well with a simple tossed green salad. If you are looking to cut some calories, plain yogurt can be substituted for some of the sour cream. For a crispy salad, prepare the dressing and the cabbage a day in advance. Pack in separate containers, and just before serving, combine the two.


  • 4 green New Mexican chiles, roasted, peeled, stems and seeds removed, chopped

  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, chopped

  • ½ cup sour cream

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

  • Ground white pepper


  • ½ head green cabbage, shredded

  • 1/4 head red cabbage, shredded

  • 1 red onion, cut into thin rings

Put the chiles and cucumber in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour the mixture into a bowl, add the remaining dressing ingredients and mix to combine. Allow the dressing to sit for an hour at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator to blend the flavors.

Combine all the ingredients for the salad in a separate bowl and chill.

To serve, pour only enough of the dressing over the salad to coat the cabbage. Toss the salad with the dressing and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Jalapeño Corn Muffins with Chile Orange Butter

Take these “hot” muffins on your next picnic in place of ordinary bread or even chips. Flavored butters (or margarine) are easy to prepare and make tasty alternatives to a plain butter. Any unused butter can be frozen for latter use as a spread or for sauteing foods such as shrimp.


  • 4 jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped

  • 2 cups milk

  • 1 cup buttermilk

  • 3 eggs

  • 1 cup cornmeal

  • 3/4 cup flour

  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • 3 tablespoons baking powder

  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt

  • Chile Orange Butter:

  • 1 tablespoon New Mexico red chile powder

  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest

  • 2 teaspoons orange juice

  • 1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the chile butter and allow to sit at room temperature for an hour to blend the flavors.

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.and grease a muffin tin.

To make the muffins, mix the jalapeños, milk, buttermilk, and eggs together in a bowl.

In another bowl sift together the dry ingredients.

Add the dry ingredients to the liquid. Gently mix them until the dry ingredients are absorbed being careful not to over mix.

Pour the batter into the greased muffin tins and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until done.

Yield: 24 muffins

Heat Scale: Mild

Thai Chile and Artichoke Pasta Salad

This unusual combination of ingredients makes a salad that is hearty enough to be served as an entree as well as a side dish. I always prepare this salad a day before I plan to serve it to ensure the flavors are combined. A word of caution though, the salad seems to increase in heat the longer it sits. So make the dressing a little on the mild side or the salad may become too hot to enjoy.

  • 1 6 ½-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and liquid reserved

  • 2 to 3 Thai chiles, stems removed, or substitute serrano chiles

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh preferred

  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano

  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 cups cooked rotini pasta

  • 2 cups thinly sliced fresh spinach

  • ½ cup sliced Kalmata olives

  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese

  • Garnish: Chopped fresh parsley

To make the dressing, put two of the artichoke hearts, reserved liquid, chiles, lemon juice, oregano, garlic, black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of water in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

Coarsely chop the remaining artichoke hearts and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the pasta, spinach, olives and feta cheese. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss to combine. Cover and chill over night.

Garnish with the parsley before serving.

Yields: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Hot

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