Chicken, pork and even beef dishes often seem to be like wallflowers. You hardly notice them. Look again. Deep down there's a sparkling personality waiting to be brought forth.

The inner beauty of many dishes is not apparent until the protein (such as meat, poultry, fish or cheese) is combined with hot peppers, chili powders, fresh and powdered herbs, an acid (such as vinegar, lime juice or lemon juice), and salt.

Tart tomato relishes, sour cream, yogurt-based sauces and vegetable chutneys can have a similar effect on a meal, setting off and adding taste to anything with which they are paired.

The recipes that follow include such standard ingredients as chicken, pork and beef, several types of cheese, and some seafood (swordfish and scallops). However, what makes the dishes distinctive are the extras they include.

There are fresh chilies (from jalapeno to serrano, guero to fresno) and bunches of bright green herbs (coriander, mint, basil, oregano), as well as powdered herbs and spices.

Commerical chili powders that contain cumin, oregano, salt and the like, rarely have the strength of the pure powders made from ristra, ancho or pasilla chilies. When pure powders cannot be found, an exceptionally fine quality substitute is Gebhardt's Chili Powder.

Further, you can make your own powder by drying hot pepper pods in a low oven for about 15 minutes. Turn them often and then cool on a wire rack; crumble them open, and flick away the seeds. Pulverize the flesh in a small electric grinder. I keep a small coffee grinder to use just for grinding my own chili powders and spices.

BEEF TURNOVERS (6 servings)

These tasty turnovers are filled with a piquant ground beef mixture; the wrapper is a flour tortilla, which, when enclosed with beef and saute'ed, turns a crisp mottled brown.


3 tablespoons lard (vegetable oil may be substituted)

3/4 pound ground beef

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 cup chopped green olives

2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese

1 cup shredded longhorn cheddar cheese

1/4 cup sliced drained jalapen o peppers pickled in vinegar (recipe follows)

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves


12 8-inch flour tortillas

12 tablespoons lard


1 1/2 cups sour cream, cold

1 recipe Spicy Tomato Chutney (recipe follows)

1 lime, cut in wedges

Make the filling: Place the lard in a skillet and heat over moderately high heat. Crumble in the ground beef and cook until it loses its raw, red color. Season with salt and pepper, add olives and continue cooking for 5 minutes, stirring. When the beef is cooked through, transfer it to a bowl to cool completely. When thoroughly cooled, combine with the jack and cheddar cheeses, pickled peppers and coriander. Taste for extra salt and pepper and add as necessary.

To put together the turnovers, carefully spoon the filling, divided roughly into 12 portions, on one half of each tortilla (keep an inch border free of filling). Gently fold over the uncovered half to cover the filling and press down lightly to enclose the filling. To cook the turnovers, heat 2 tablespoons lard in a non-stick skillet until very hot, cook 2 tortillas at a time, first on one side then on another, until golden brown (the cooking time for each side is about 1 minute), carefully turning over the tortillas with two spatulas. Transfer the tortillas to a warm oven while you fry the remainder, using 2 tablespoons lard for each 2-tortilla batch.

To serve: Assemble 2 tortillas on a warm plate, cover with a band of sour cream and one of tomato chutney, and garnish with a lime. Serve piping hot.

JALAPENO PEPPERS PICKLED IN VINEGAR (Makes 1/2 pound pickled peppers)

These peppers, sliced or chopped, add both fire and piquancy to savory fillings, relishes and sauces. They are a boon to have sitting in the refrigerator for a last minute charge of fire.

1/2 pound plump, green jalapeno peppers

3 cups apple cider vinegar, or plain distilled white vinegar

3 3-inch long strips lemon peel

1/4 teaspoon salt

Wash and thoroughly dry the whole jalapenos. Pack the peppers in a large clean, glass jar; set aside.

Combine the vinegar, lemon peel and salt in a medium size non-corrosive saucepan; set over high heat and bring to a boil. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the peppers to cover completely. Close the jar with a lid and let the peppers stand in a cool, draft-free spot until they reach room temperature.

When cooled, refrigerate the pepper for at least 1 day before using.

SPICY TOMATO CHUTNEY (Makes about 3 cups)

In this cooked sauce-like relish, the onions, herbs and spices add zest to the tomatoes. Use bright, fresh herbs.

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 onions, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, diced

3 serrano chilies, cored, seeded and chopped (use rubber gloves to protect your hands)

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons paprika

8 fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded and cut into chunks, or, 2 14 1/2-ounce cans tomato wedges, cut into large chunks, with their juice

2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves

2 tablespoons minced coriander leaves

2 tablespoons minced basil leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the oil and onions in a large saucepan; set over moderate heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and chilies; cook 3 minutes. Stir in the cumin and paprika; cook 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a simmer; simmer the chutney for 10 to 15 minutes or until it has condensed slightly.

Cool the chutney to room temperature, then stir in the parsley, coriander, and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the chutney at room temperature or very lightly chilled.


Grilled over charcoal and made aromatic with the addition of apple or cherry wood, these pork skewers make for a quick and spicy summertime main course. Chunks of boneless and skinless chicken or cubes of lamb may replace the pork.

6 large garlic cloves, minced

1 onion, minced

4 serrano chilies, cored, seeded, and chopped (use rubber gloves to protect your hands)

3 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1-inch thick strips

3 tablespoons pure chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons paprika

1/4 cup worcestershire sauce

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt to taste


1 recipe Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce (recipe follows)

Combine the garlic, onion and chilies in a small bowl. Press the chili mixture evenly over the pork strips. Combine the chili powder, cumin, oregano and paprika in a small bowl. Dust the spice mixture over the pork and turn the pieces to coat them evenly in the spices.

Transfer the pork and all seasonings that may have fallen off to a large non-metallic baking dish. Sprinkle over the worcestershire sauce, olive oil and lime juice. Sprinkle the pork with salt to taste.

Cover the pork and refrigerate for 1/2 hour or up to 8 hours. Soak thin, 12-inch long bamboo skewers for 1/2 hour in cold water or use long metal skewers for handling the pork.

Thread strips of pork lengthwise down the skewers and place the threaded skewers back into the baking dish. Grill the pork over moderately hot coals for about 10 minutes (5 minutes each side), until cooked through and tender.

Serve the pork bedded down on a layer of fresh coriander sprigs, if desired. Place the skewers on warm plates and nap the tips with the Cucumber-Yogurt sauce.


This yogurt-based cucumber sauce is cooling and mellow, contributing a soothing quality to the spicy pork skewers. My first choice for the cucumbers would be from the small, firm pickling variety. They stay crisp, even when suspended in the yogurt.

2 cups plain yogurt

1/3 pound small, firm cucumbers, rinsed, dried, and shredded on the large holes of a hand grater

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

Place the yogurt in a small mixing bowl. Stir in the cucumbers and lime juice. Add the cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, or up to 6 hours before serving. Just before serving, stir in the mint. Serve cold.


For a change from using phyllo dough or crepes as envelopes for holding fillings, use the reasonably sturdy, soft corn tortillas. These long, plump tubes of chicken wrapped in a crisp deep-fried tortilla should be eaten with the fingers.


1 1/2 pounds whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved

1/4 cup pure chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons coriander

2 teaspoons paprika

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons lard (vegetable oil may be substituted)

1 red bell pepper, cored seeded, and cut into thin strips (green pepper may be substituted if red is not available)


24 round 6 1/2- to 7-inch tortillas

Fresh, pure soybean oil for deep-frying


1 1/2 cups sour cream, cold

1 recipe Red Pepper Relish (recipe follows)

For the chicken filling: Pat the chicken dry between sheets of paper toweling. Blend together the chili powder, cumin, coriander, paprika and salt. Rub the spice mixture evenly over all the chicken pieces. Heat the lard in a large skillet, and when hot, add the chicken breasts. Saute' the breasts, turning once, for 10 minutes, or until cooked through but still moist. Remove the chicken to a cutting board. Add the red pepper strips and saute' until tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove the peppers to a side dish.

Shred the chicken with a sharp knife into long slivers, add to the peppers, and toss; set aside.

To fill the wrappers: Lay out the tortillas on a work surface. Place a few strips of filling on the bottom quarter of each tortilla; roll up the tortilla, leaving the sides open. Secure each tortilla closed by fastening with 2 toothpicks spearing the wrapper on the diagonal. (Toothpicks fastened horizontally will break the tortilla.)

Pour enough pure soybean oil to fill 1 1/2 inches of a deep-fry kettle or large, heavy casserole. Insert a deep-fry thermometer and heat the oil to 350 degrees. Three at a time, deep-fry the chicken packages until golden and crisp on both sides, about 1 minute in total. Remove the fried packages to a large jellyroll pan which has been lined with several thicknesses of paper toweling. Continue to fry the remaining packages.

Serve 4 packages on individual warmed plates. Garnish with a band of sour cream and a band of Red Pepper Relish. Alternately, stack the fried chicken packages on a large round platter and serve the accompaniments on the side.

RED PEPPER RELISH (Makes about 2 cups)

An all-pepper relish intensified with minced garlic and crushed red pepper -- the red peppers are quickly saute'ed in olive oil to render them yielding but still crisp -- then tossed in red wine vinegar and basil.

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, more or less to taste

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and sliced into thin strips

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt to taste

3 tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves

Place the garlic and olive oil in a large skillet. Set over moderately low heat and cook for 2 minutes, or until the aroma of the garlic comes forth. Raise the heat to moderately high, add the crushed red pepper; cook, stirring for 1 minute. Stir in the peppers and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss the pepper mixture with the wine vinegar and salt. Cool to room temperature. Just before serving, fold through the fresh basil. Salt if necessary.


Hot peppers, chili powder, cumin and coriander make this chicken dish racy and bold. The main course may be assembled and cooked well ahead of serving -- a real time-saver for the cook. Packages of chicken legs and/or thighs, or breasts alone may replace the whole chicken.

1/4 cup light olive oil

3 1/2- to 3 3/4-pound whole chicken, cut up into 8 serving pieces and patted dry on paper toweling

4 tablespoons cumin, spread out on a dinner plate

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

3 tablespoons pure medium or hot chili powder

2 teaspoons coriander

2 jalapen o peppers, cored, seeded and chopped (use rubber gloves to protect your hands)

14 1/2-ounce can tomato wedges, coarsely chopped, with their juice

1 1/2 cups light beer (regular beer may be substituted), at room temperature


3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Heat the olive oil over moderate heat in a large skillet. Dip the chicken pieces in the cumin to coat lightly on both sides. A batch at a time, saute' the chicken in the olive oil until golden on both sides; remove the chicken to a side dish as the pieces brown. Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper.

Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the garlic and onion. Reduce the heat to low and saute' for 3 minutes. Add the pepper strips and cook 1 minute. Stir in the chili powder, raise the heat to moderate and cook the powder for about 2 minutes or until it turns dark. Stir in the coriander, jalapen o peppers, tomato wedges (and juice), and beer. Bring to a boil, stirring. Add the chicken pieces, tucking them in the liquid in one layer, overlapping slightly. Bring the liquid to a boil, basting the chicken with it while reaching the boil. Cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.

Remove the chicken to a baking dish and set in a warm oven while you finish the sauce. Boil down the sauce until lightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Place the chicken pieces on a deep, round platter and nap with the sauce. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with the chopped parsley and serve hot.

SWORDFISH AND SCALLOP SALAD WITH TOMATOES AND CORIANDER (4 servings as a warm weather main course, or 6 as an appetizer)

This light and pungent salad made with marinated chunks of swordfish and small, delicate scallops is lovely to serve on a warm spring evening or balmy summer night. The taste is emphatically assertive, but the amount of the fiery chilies can be increased or decreased according to personal taste. But remember that the potency of the pepper brings out the marvelous sharp taste of the salad.


3 quarts cold water

1/2 lemon

1/2 an imported bay leaf

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon whole allspice berries

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-pound piece swordfish steak, cut 1-inch thick, sliced into 1-inch thick strips, trimmed of outer skin

1/2 pound bay scallops, trimmed of any attached muscles, rinsed quickly in cool water


Juice of 10 large limes (about 1 cup), well chilled


9 small, ripe tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded and cut into small dice or, 14 1/2-ounce can tomato wedges, cut up with their juice, or, 12-ounce can plum tomatoes, cut up with their juice

1 small onion, chopped

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, more or less to taste

4 jalapen o peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced (use rubber gloves to protect your hands)

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Shredded romaine lettuce

Sprigs of coriander for garnishing

Prepare the fish and shellfish: Place the water in a large casserole. Squeeze in the lemon and drop in the lemon half. Add the bay leaf, peppercorns, allspice, and salt. Bring to the boil. Add the swordfish and scallops, bring to the boil quickly, then remove from the heat. Let stand 2 minutes. Drain the fish, picking away the bay leaf, peppercorns, and allspice.

Combine the fish and lime juice in a large non-metallic bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 5 hours.

Make the tomato mixture: Combine tomatoes, chopped onion, coriander, salt, jalapenos and vinegar in a small bowl. Two hours before serving the salad, drain the swordfish and scallops of the lime juice. Combine with the chopped tomato mixture, adding additional salt to taste if necessary. Cover and chill for 2 hours.

For serving, combine the red onion slices with the fish mixture. Mound the romaine on a large platter, top with the fish mixture, and scatter whole sprigs of coriander over the top.


Peppers steeped (or preserved) in vinegar electrify the cheese, which is meltingly soft. A tomato relish, like the Spicy Tomato Chutney, would be a good sidekick to the cheese crisp.


3 jalapeno peppers, cut into thin rings (use rubber gloves to protect your hands)

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt


1/2 pound monterey jack cheese, shredded

1/2 pound longhorn cheddar cheese, shredded

1/3 pound havarti cheese, shredded

6 10-inch flour tortillas

Pure, fresh soybean oil, for deep frying

First marinate the peppers: Combine the jalapeno peppers, vinegar, and salt in a small bowl; cover and set aside for 3 hours; alternately, prepare a day ahead and refrigerate, covered tightly.

To make the crisps, combine the cheeses in a large bowl and set aside, covered. Place the tortillas by the stovetop, stacked. Pour soybean oil to 1 1/2-inch depth in a deep-fry kettle or casserole large enough to hold the tortillas in one flat layer. Insert a deep-fry thermometer. Heat the oil to 350 degrees. One at a time, deep-fry the tortillas until golden brown on both sides, about 40 seconds. Remove the tortillas to a paper towel-lined jelly roll pan.

Arrange the fried tortillas on several cookie sheets, 2 to a sheet. Cover the surface of each tortilla with 1/6 of the grated cheese mixture. Sprinkle the hot peppers on top of each cheese-covered tortilla. Bake the crisps on the middle level rack of a 400-degree oven for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted completely. Serve the crisps hot.

Note: About 3 tablespoons sliced and drained jalapeno peppers, taken from Jalapeno Peppers Pickled in Vinegar, may replace the marinated peppers above.