A curious cook can make some sweet deals with these smoky, snappy peppers. Recipe: Burrito Bob's Dried Cherry and Chipotle Pepper Sauce...

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My husband is the kind of guy who can make Mexican food out of anything. Forget the rice and beans. Be it leftover duck, roasted vegetables or lentil stew, you can bet he’ll figure out a way to make a burrito or a quesadilla out of it. It’s a talent that’s earned him the nickname “Burrito Bob.”

One day he announced he was planning to “experiment a little” with a recipe he found on the Web — a savory cherry sauce — by adding chipotle peppers. I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea. Could cherries and the smoked and dried jalapeño chili pepper commonly used in Mexican cuisine truly coexist in the same skillet, much less taste good together?

While I do harbor a fierce passion for spicy food and readily embrace fusion, I made no secret of my skepticism. But in the end, curiosity won out.

Chipotle peppers and dried cherries? There was something seductive about the combination: a smoky heat counterbalanced with the bright tang of red fruit. So I followed Burrito Bob as he wandered into uncharted culinary territory — and don’t regret it for a moment. When he ultimately served up his “little experiment,” a roast chicken with dried cherry and chipotle sauce, it was a delectable, savory-sweet and slightly smoldering, finger-licking triumph.

Burrito Bob was onto something.

A spin around the Web, a closer look at recipe collections on my own shelves and some scrutiny of local restaurant menus confirmed it. The chipotle pepper — either powdered or canned in adobo sauce — has been elbowing its way into the most unexpected places on the menu.

If you think about it as a plot, this one has all the hallmarks of a TV reality show like “Extreme Makeover.” Enter the chipotle pepper — shriveled, dried, aesthetically challenged, but with lots of personality. Once you put it on the set with any number of dishes, this ugly but plucky pepper becomes a star.

Once I started scouting for recipes online, I hit pay dirt. First, I landed on the thriving community of fanatical chili-pepper lovers who call themselves “Pepperheads” or “Chiliheads.” Their enthusiasm is so intense that my first thought was “12-step program.” But more importantly, there was plenty of evidence that chipotle peppers were, well, hot. My short list of best finds speaks for itself: garlic, white cheddar and chipotle mashed potatoes; chipotle polenta; grilled duck with juniper-berry, orange and chipotle sauce. What was most surprising was the breadth of sauces combining chipotles and fruit: apricots, cranberries, even raspberries. I submitted the recipes to Burrito Bob in hopes he’d continue to “experiment.” When I plucked “Fields of Greens” off the shelf, I found that San Francisco’s legendary vegetarian restaurant Greens had a soft spot for chipotle peppers, too, citing them as a favorite seasoning to spark up an aioli or vinaigrette. The recipe collection includes a cinnamon chipotle butter, which they use to brush grilled potatoes, summer squash and thick rounds of red onions. “It’s better than butter,” as they say. Much better.

What about eating out in Seattle? You’ll readily find chipotles putting the sizzle into sophisticated food about town. Etta’s Seafood brunch heats up its version of eggs Benedict — piled with Dungeness crab and spinach — with a crown of chipotle hollandaise. FX McRory’s pushes up the temperature on its pepper-encrusted pork chop with a chipotle-pepper butter. And at Marco’s Supperclub, in addition to the signature fried sage leaves with a tomato chipotle dipping sauce, I found roasted pork loin with a chipotle and dried cherry sauce, served with chipotle infused spaetzle!

At this point I had to admit Burrito Bob had stumbled onto something way bigger than I’d given him credit for. So supperclub owner Marco Rulff offered to explain:

“Flavors that are on the opposite end of the spectrum tend to balance each other out and are pleasant to the palate.”

Chipotles smooth out the sweetness of the fruit, he says. “They don’t cancel each other out, but enhance each other’s flavor.”

If Rulff’s words provided clarity for me, they offered Burrito Bob the sweet taste of vindication. There’s no getting around it, I’ll be eating crow. But I’ll take it — gladly — with a dried cherry and chipotle sauce.

Jacqueline Koch is a writer and photographer living in Seattle. Barry Wong is a Seattle-based freelance photographer. He can be reached at studio@barrywongphoto.com.

Recipe: Burrito Bob’s Dried Cherry and Chipotle Pepper Sauce

While chipotle peppers offer a smoky heat, this recipe can be seasoned to taste. I recommend the canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, a thick blend of tomato and vinegar. A number of brands, such as Embasa, are available in the Mexican food section of most major supermarkets and in Mexican food stores. This recipe works beautifully with grilled chicken, pork or polenta.

4 tablespoons butter, divided

2 medium shallots, chopped

2 chipotle peppers, chopped

½ cup sherry

½ cup chicken stock (can substitute vegetable stock for vegetarian option)

8 ounces dried cherries

4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a small sauté pan, melt half the butter and sauté the shallots. When they are soft, add the chipotle peppers. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, then set aside.

2. In a separate pan, melt the rest of the butter, stir in the sherry, chicken stock, dried cherries, vinegar and honey and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the cherries soften and the sauce reduces a bit, about 30 minutes. To serve, spoon some of the sauce into a dish, place the meat on top and pour the remaining sauce on top.

— adapted from DIY Network, “Paul James’ Home Grown Cooking”