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Hatching a Chile Celebration at Central Market

Second only to Christmas holidays for bringing in customers, the 15th annual Hatch Chile Festival at Central Market stores, going on now through August 31, creates shopping cart gridlock. What is it about the smoky vegetable from the nightshade family that earns such devotion from foodies?

"It's the flavor," says Eric Santamaria, manager of the Lovers Lane Central Market. "It doesn't have the heat of jalapenos. It's smokier, spicier, earthier. People from New Mexico know that already. But lots of people here are just discovering it. Also it's the first year we've had a TV commercial about the event."

Hatch, New Mexico, is where the peppers are grown. The town has its own Hatch Chile Festival taking place this year on Labor Day Weekend, September 4-5.

At Central Market, you can buy fresh raw, whole peppers at $1.29 a pound , plus dozens of hatch-infused products in the takeout, bakery and café areas. They're roasting the chiles in huge propane-heated contraptions in the parking lot. There's a hatch-chocolate gelato and a pineapple-lime-hatch sorbet in the freezer case. There's even a hatch roll at the sushi counter. I ordered a hatch burger to go in the Central Market café. Not only is the meat dotted with roasted chiles, they're in the bun, the cheese and in grilled strips between the lettuce and tomato. It's all good.

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Hatch chiles are healthy little things. A medium-sized pod has as much Vitamin C as six oranges. Roasted chiles are good for treating sore throats, and they're believed to aid in weight loss by speeding up the body's metabolism through a trigger of thermodynamic burn. Chile peppers are related to tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant.

Central Market is holding a Hatch Chile recipe contest. Each of the chain's eight stores will pick a winner, judged for creativity, taste and presentation. Winners will receive 75 pounds of roasted Hatch peppers and a $100 Central Market gift card. Just for entering your recipe, you'll receive a $5 off coupon (of a $25 purchase).

Here's the recipe for one of last year's winners, Enchilagna Hatch Green Chili Bake by Maria Kahn of Southlake.

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