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Chili strings pronto.

Fiery red strings of chilies, called ristras, are common in the Southwest, particularly in fall, when you see them hanging from rafters to dry in the warm desert air. Traditionally made to preserve an abundant harvest, ristras have recently become a popular decoration for the home.

Throughout the West, September and October are the height of the chili harvest. If you would like to make a ristra, look for chilies at farmers' markets and produce stands-or harvest from your garden if plants produce bountifully.

While ristras are usually made of Ana- heim'-type chilies, any long, thin-skinned chili will do. Thick-skinned peppers such as Fresno Chile Grande' and Sweet Banana' usually rot before drying (although you can use them for decoration while they're still fresh); 'Jalapeno' tends to

shrivel up. At right, we give a quick method for stringing chilies.

Make sure chilies are red

You can design ristras to any length you wish. To create a 36-inch-long 'Anaheim'- type ristra, you'll need about 15 pounds of chilies. For a 6- to 10-inch-long ristra with small chilies such as 'Cascabelle' or 'De Arbol', you'll need 5 to 10 pounds.

Look for chilies that are fully colored at harvest. If most of the skin is green, chilies may not dry properly. Those that are slightly green may still be usable-spread them on a counter in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area for two to three days; they should turn bright red. Also, select blemish-free chilies that are firm and fresh; handle carefully to avoid bruising.

As you begin the project, have on hand

a heavy carpet needle and strong string, fishing line, or twine 6 to 8 inches longer than the length of the ristra you plan to make (string and needle can be lighter weight for small chilies). Rubber gloves and a thimble help protect hands. If you don't plan to cook with the chilies, you can seal them after drying with acrylic varnish.

A quick alternative to traditional ristra stringing

The traditional method of making ristras is time-consuming and requires a fair amount of manual dexterity. Delia Kling of Palo Alto, California, prefers a simpler technique she feels is just as durable.

Before starting, soften chili stems by placing chilies in a burlap bag (or similar ventilated bag) for about 24 hours. Next, string the chilies (pass a needle through lower stem, and push chili down against the others. Leave no gaps between stems.)

Knot string for ristra at beginning and end; make a loop at top for hanging.

Finished ristras need ventilation

Hang the ristra in a well-ventilated area-on a porch or under a ramada-out of wind. Without ventilation, chilies dry too slowly and may mold and attract fruit flies. In some climates, crickets may be a hazard outdoors.

Thin-skinned or small chilies such as 'Cayenne' dry fastest. If you live in a cool, humid climate, they're your best bet.

When chilies are dry (they'll turn dark and feel brittle), display the ristra indoors or outside away from direct sun. In a dry climate, a ristra will last a year or two. Dust periodically by wiping with a damp cloth.

For cooking, "pick" as needed

To use the chilies, gently pluck from the top of the ristra. If chilies are dusty, rinse in cool water, then pat dry.

To make dried chili flakes, grind chilies in a blender or crush with a mortar and pestle. For chili sauce, soak whole chilies in warm water for one to two hours, then puree in a food processor or a blender with a little liquid; if skins are tough, rub mixture through a fine strainer.

Fresh red chilies by mail

If you can't find quantities of red chilies locally, order them by mail from My Santa Fe Connection, Box 1863, Corrales, New Mexico 87048; (505) 842-9564 (10 pounds, $19.50; 20 pounds, $31) or Whitewater Farms, Box 41, McNeal, Ariz. 85617; (602) 642-3624 (6 varieties, from $10 for 10 pounds). Call for shipping prices.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:making chili ristras
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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