Latin ingredient of the week: Chilean merquén spice (EXCLUSIVE RECIPE)
Ever since I can remember, I have always been a big fan of spices.
That's not really to say that I love spicy food. In fact, when it comes to food that is hot (and I don't mean in the temperature sense), I'm a big baby. I prefer my food not burning the inside of my mouth, but I do love my food very well seasoned. Whenever a non-Latino friend asked me why I, as a Cuban, didn't like spicy food, I would always reply with a simple, "we like well-seasoned and well-spiced food, but that doesn't necessarily mean spicy as in hot." I thought I was pretty well versed in some of the best Latino spices, in fact, including make-your-own adobo and Spanish smoked paprika (the perfect popcorn topping!). But I was never prepared for the amazing flavors of the Chilean merquén spice.
When my friend Alejandra Ramos, food blogger extraordinaire at Always Order Dessert, invited me to her house for a Foods from Chile dinner party, I immediately replied with my enthusiasm. I was excited to try all of the wholesome foods that came from this Latin American country. What I wasn't prepared for, though, was the smoky spice blend that I encountered alongside all of the delicious food.
After I raved about the spice to Alejandra, she let me take a little home with me. To be honest, I couldn't WAIT to play with this chile pepper (also known as merkén). Immediately thinking back to all of the apples I still had in my freezer from a successful Autumn apple picking adventure, I decided to try my hand at another batch of slow cooker apple butter. This time, though, I substituted the Tabasco for some merquen and came up with a slow cooker merquén-spiced apple butter that shot up to the top of my favorite Latin slow cooker recipes EVER. Try it and I swear you won't regret it!
The best part about this spice, though, is that you can use it to flavor many things. In fact, Alejandra made some merquén-spiced brownies and I am planning some merquén-spiced roasted chicken soon. It's a spice that's just too good to pass up!
Slow Cooker Merquén-Spiced Apple Butter
Prep: 15 minutes
Slow Cook: 18 hours on Low
Yield: 3 (2 cup) servings
10 small apples (I used Granny Smith)
2 cups water
3 tablespoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons Chilean merquén spice
1 tablespoon salt (I used sea salt)
1. Wash and dry your apples, then chop them into small 1-inch pieces. Put them into your slow cooker. Pour in the water, followed by the vanilla extract.
2. Then, sprinkle in your cinnamon, merquén spice and the salt.
3. Set the slow cooker on LOW for 16 to 18 hours. Usually I recommend doing this the night before, checking on it in the morning, and then coming home to your finished apple butter.
4. Once done, turn off your slow cooker and let the apple butter cool for 30 minutes. Then, pour the mixture into a food processor or blender and mix it until it is smooth. Taste and add sugar if necessary (though it shouldn't be).
5. Using a strainer to remove the apple skins, divide the mixture into jars (about three) and serve as a perfect mid-day snack or even dessert.
Images via Irina Gonzalez