Mexican cooks use at least a hundred different types of chiles, fresh or dried, in colours ranging from pale green to almost black, and all sorts of different sizes (large, mild ones are often stuffed with meat or cheese and rice to make chiles rellenos). Each has a distinct flavour and by no means all are hot (which is why we don’t use the English term “chilli” for them), although the most common, chiles jalapeños – which can be green or red, and are traditionally grown around the city of Xalapa – certainly are. The hottest is the habanero, 25 times hotter than the jalapeño. Far less intimidating is the chile poblano, a large, mild chile used in dishes such as chiles rellenos and chiles en nogada, a seasonal dish of stuffed poblano chiles in a white sauce made of walnuts and cream cheese or sour cream, topped with red pomegranate: the colours of the national flag.
Chile is also the basic ingredient of more complex cooked sauces, notably mole, which is Mexico’s version of a curry, traditionally served with turkey or chicken, but also sometimes with enchiladas (rolled, filled tortillas). There are several types of mole, the two most common being the rather bland mole verde, and the far richer and more exciting mole poblano, a speciality of Puebla. Half of the fifty or so ingredients in this extraordinary mixture are different types of chile, but the most notable ingredient is chocolate.