Archive for December, 2008

Jalapeños or chiles toreados

December 15, 2008

The word chile in Mexico means pepper, the country where it comes from. In Spain we call it pimiento and it was brought to us from Mexico or North America (Yes, for those of you who don’t know, Mexico is in North America). The word chile or chili comes from the Nahuatl language, a Native American language. Native Americans in Mexico for me are not Indians, I refer to them in the same way that I refer to natives here in the U.S. One time, when I was working as an interpreter, an immigration judge interrupted me in court when a Guatemalan individual was saying the word indígenas and I translated it as “natives”. His Honor disagreed. The natives over there should be called Indians, he enlightened me. Of course interpreters should not really defend themselves in court because the record speaks for itself. But I am often amused by the ridiculous labels that have been created to describe different people.

Many words in the Mexican Spanish dialect come from the Nahuatl also known as Nahua in Spanish, specially those that have the “ch” in them.

Chiles toreados are in a way lightly “browned” or lightly roasted peppers because they are quickly fried in a little oil, and turned. They are in a sense “toasted” in oil, because they are only slightly cooked. Sometimes you can see blisters on the jalapeños from the heat, but how much you cook them is your choice. In order for them to be considered toreados , however, they should not be cooked too much. Just like a toast, you usually don’t want to over toast it.

In Mexico the verb torear(to bullfight) means the same as in Spain. But it also means to “rub” the chile pepper in order to have the seeds release their juice and make the pepper hotter. So supposedly the jalapeño is hotter when you cook it up this way but there is also a Spanish verb torrar, which means to toast. This word also exists in Portuguese and Catalan, and perhaps it is more frequent in those languages because I’ve only heard someone use it in Spanish once or twice.

Torradas in Portuguese are toasts and I remember my grandmother in Portugal would toast bread on an iron skillet, the grilling kind, since she didn’t have a toaster and since Portuguese white bread isn’t really shaped to put in a toaster. Toasts also taste a lot better when they are made in this old fashioned way. So the torradas were made in a similar way as these jalapeños toreados are made, with a different type of skillet of course, and the jalapeños toreados are only lightly cooked, not quite toasted like a toast.

The word turrón, a special “nougat”  made out of almonds and honey, which looks a little like peanut brittle, and which comes from the Alicante province of Spain, also comes from the word torrar or its Catalonian or Valencian version of the word because the delicious mixture of honey, almonds and sugar were toasted up or baked after being mixed together.

Toreado and torrado are the past participles of the verbs torear and torrar respectively.  I understand why perhaps the verb torear was chosen to describe the action of rubbing the peppers, after all, you are fooling them or tricking them (into becoming hotter) which is another meaning of the verb torear.

But does putting the jalapeños in the skillet for a couple of minutes really make them hotter? I think that is debatable.  It really depends on the jalapeño itself. The more I think about the word toreado, the more it sounds very much like a  mispronunciation of torrado.

In any event, I was fortunate to visit Albuquerque, New Mexico, this year and I enjoyed some of these wonderfully hot jalapeños toreados. I slice them up and eat them with meat, usually steak or chicken. This pepper is for the person who really likes hot food. Even my wife is hesitant to eat them prepared this way and I have always joked that she is capable of eating jalapeños like Spaniards eat olives.

Maybe I like hot food more than her after all.

Copyright © 2009 By Jorge L. Carbajosa