By: Alexander Ehasz, Columnist
Many people’s exposure to dried chiles start and end with chili powder and cayenne pepper. While these are great, versatile spices, one only has to look at the cuisine of a country like Mexico to see a world of more flavorful and interesting options.
A recent favorite of mine is the Guajillo chili pepper. This pepper is amongst the most popular in Mexico, and boasts a mild, sweet, fruity, and smoky flavor profile. The other chile in this recipe, the Japones chili pepper, is far hotter, and brings a unique flavor as well.
These peppers can be found at a relatively cheap price in most grocery stores; search the international aisle for large bags of them. This recipe makes use of these two peppers to flavor chicken breast, which is complemented by a smoky roasted red pepper hummus, a bright preserved lemon, and a quick homemade flatbread.
Total time: 6-8 hours
Active time: 30 minutes
- 2 chicken breasts
- 2 large dried chili peppers such as guajillo
- 1 japones or similar hot chile pepper
- 1 half lemon, sliced into 4 or 5 slices
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Neutral oil (for the pan)
Quick preserved lemons
- 1 lemon
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
- 1 red bell pepper
- Juice of half a lemon
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 ½ cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup of water
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Neutral oil such as vegetable or peanut (for cooking)
- Cilantro for garnish
Several hours ahead of time, begin preparing the marinated chicken and preserved lemons. Boil several cups of water. Open up the dried peppers in a bowl and pour enough boiling water to cover. Let them sit for 5 minutes to rehydrate. Meanwhile, with a mallet or rolling pin, flatten the chicken breasts until they are a consistent thickness across the whole piece. Salt and pepper both sides. Lay one breast flat and top with the half lemon slices and rehydrated peppers. Top with the other chicken breast (this should make a “sandwich” of sorts, the chicken containing the lemons and peppers). Sprinkle any remaining pepper pieces and seeds over the outside of this bundle. Transfer this to a plastic bag, push out as much air as possible, and refrigerate several hours, up to overnight.
For the preserved lemon, slice the lemon into very thin slices. In a small pot, boil 2 cups of water along with the salt and sugar. Add the lemons and boil for one minute before reducing heat to medium low. Cook for 10 more minutes and then remove from heat. Let this cool and then transfer to the fridge.
For the hummus, roast the bell pepper over a stovetop gas burner or torch until the entire outside is blackened. Rub off most of the blackened skin and then slice into strips, discarding the stem, seeds, core, and white ribs. Chop the garlic clove. Add the pepper and garlic to a food processor along with the lemon juice, oil, tahini, and beans. Blend until it is smooth and creamy.
Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Once mixed, add in the water and oil. Mix this mixture until it forms a soft, homogenous dough. Divide the dough into four even pieces and roll them into balls. Cover and let rest for 15-30 minutes.
The dough should rise and feel significantly lighter. With each of the dough balls, flatten them with your hands until they are around 6 inches in diameter. Heat the oven to 200F or the “warm” setting. Heat 1 tablespoon neutral oil in a pan over medium high until it just starts to shimmer. Add a flatbread dough round and cook until dark brown spots appear. Flip, repeat for the other side, and transfer to the oven. Repeat for all four flatbreads, adding another teaspoon or so of oil between each.
Raise the heat to high. Add another teaspoon of oil and the chicken breasts, making sure not to transfer any bits of the dried peppers. Cook for a minute until a golden brown crust forms and flip. Sear the other side, and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees Farenhiet or a slice into the thickest part is no longer pink.
Remove the flatbreads from the oven. Stack two on a plate, top with hummus, the chicken breast, preserved lemon, and cilantro. Finish with a crack of fresh ground pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and a few cilantro leaves.
Serve with roasted vegetables or a salad of cucumber, onion, and tomato dressed with olive oil and lemon.