Chiles are spicy pods of the capsicum family of plants. Also known as chile peppers, they're available in many sizes and colors, with varying degrees of hotness (generally, the smaller the chile, the hotter it is). When shopping for fresh chiles, look for bright colors and avoid any that are shriveled, bruised, or broken. Store them, covered, in the refrigerator for up to five days. Dried chiles will keep for up to one year in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. A few varieties include:
Anaheim: Available in fresh and dried forms, these chiles are versatile and offer medium heat.
Ancho: The dried version of the poblano pepper, these are mild to medium-hot, with complex flavors.
Cascabel: These red chiles have a medium heat and are most often sold dried.
Chile de arbol: This long, slender bright-to-deep-red chile is extremely hot. It comes in both dried and fresh forms.
Dried pequin: These tiny chiles are loaded with blistering heat. They should be used sparingly and with caution.
Habanero: Native to the Caribbean, these pack a searing heat and are available fresh and dried, with the fresh being the most popular.
Jalapeno: These are hot to extremely hot, with a short, oval shape and a green to reddish-green color.
Pasilla: These long, slender dried chiles have wrinkled skin and are medium to very hot, with a rich flavor. In some regions, they're also available fresh.
Poblano: This one is a mild to medium-hot chile with deep, complex flavors.
Serrano: The color of these hot, slender chiles is deep green, which sometimes ripens to bright red.
Thai: For spicing up Thai-inspired dishes, these colorful little chiles are the choice -- they pack plenty of intense heat.