Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Measure

I was in a discussion some years back about the percentage of people who were rotten thieving low-life bastards. I said I believed about 60% of everybody was decent for the most part; basically honest and well-meaning. The fellow I was talking to raised his eyebrows. "That many?" Some people, it seems, are convinced that a higher number are corrupt no-good-niks.

So, having formulated this in my mind, over the years I have felt some pride at my liberal allowance. Surely this means I am a spreader of hope, an optimist whose willingness to cede trust and faith to such a good number of my fellow humans contributes a positive force to our civility. Is it not also true that "the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him"? (Henry Stimson)

After all, even if I'm sometimes wrong, it's unlikely that someone is a "confidence man." And if the number of liars is squishy, lots of those are "white lies." And not out-and-out predatory amoralism.

But the other day I had a horrible realization that threw doubt on my carefully nurtured self-image: What if this really means I am only more moral than the low 40%? Suddenly I'm not looking so good. By this logic, if I was a worse scoundrel than 90% of everybody else, I would of course place myself in the "good" group, and claim that 10% of people were really evil . And conversely, if I was in the top 10%, I would undoubtedly again place myself among the winners, and rightfully claim that 90% of people are just scum.

Not only that, but this lends some credence to the most horrible idea of all: that the most misanthropic, morally conceited blue-stockings are perhaps the most moral of us all. They, the top 1%, rightly see themselves as good, and not only good, but better than 99% of everyone!

Well, I'll have none of it. It's obvious I was roughly correct in the first place. About 60% of people are basically good, and anyone who thinks they are in a more extreme moral elite are just fooling themselves. They have unforgiving natures. They are, in fact, dishonest to themselves, a moral failing of critical import. They are, in a deep sense, untrustworthy.

In short, I feel I am actually much better than such people.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Most Delicious

Here I'm making some homemade paprika from Mexican chiles. (To me, chili powder is an altogether different thing, with other spices mixed in.) This is something else I make from 100% dried, relatively mild red Mexican-type peppers.

I have mastered the hot varieties, but the mild ones are the secret to lots of great recipes. And when I cook, I'm going to bring up the heat level with some other, hotter peppers. This, however, is a savory blend. The flavor is phenomenal.

Some of the upscale markets don't sell these at all. But if you shop where the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans shop, they should have the dried varieties sold in cellophane bags. Where I live, the upscale markets have them sometimes, in bulk in the produce section. But not always. There are several varieties most non-Hispanics aren't familiar with, except in the Southwestern states.

The poblano pepper, resembling the green bell pepper, is so versatile and ubiquitous it has two names; one for the green, poblano, and another name for the red ripe version, known as ancho. Traditionally dried over wood fires, as are the other varieties discussed here, it nevertheless will develop a savory "smoky" flavor even dried using more modern methods. (Some peppers such as chipotle, which are smoked red jalapeƱos, need the smoke to be what they are.)

One of the best dried red peppers I've found so far is one with the bland or boring name of "New Mexico chile." It's only bland or boring if one mistakenly supposes that other peppers are "more authentic" somehow. Never underestimate the results of the fine, multi-decade efforts of our U.S. agronomists, however. These are some tasty peppers. I rank them #1. Previously I have had some peppers known as "negros" (black - they dry quite dark) and "mulato." Also "guajillos" I remember as very tasty, too.

This time, I used something labeled as "pasilla," and some anchos and the New Mexico chiles. I process a fairly large batch, about 18 oz. at a time. I store the finely ground result in a glass jar with a metal lid in my freezer, and thaw out only what I need for each recipe. First I removed all the stems, then cut open the peppers with my kitchen scissors and remove the seeds. Some heat, i.e., capsaicin, remains in the whitish membranes inside, so I save those too, if convenient. After I have all the seeds removed I cut them all up into little pieces with the scissors. After that, they go into the food processor. And after that, they can go into the freezer, or you could go ahead and do the last processing, or wait until you are going to cook with your red pepper / paprika: I fine grind them in my electric coffee mill.

The resultant powders are fantastically rich with aroma; a sweet and earthy scent and flavor that's indescribable. As complex as wine or chocolate or good coffee.

When I make chili con carne, I start with this paprika powder and add cumin (which I also grind from cumin seed) and the other spices. And other peppers for heat, because I like it fiery. But many other dishes do not use cumin, and for Hungarian goulashes and chicken or veal paprika recipes, which also aren't fiery hot, the pure undiluted chile product I am dealing with here is what you want.