Thanksgiving Recipes, But With Chiles In Everything

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14min 41sec
Thanksgiving Turkey Zolo Grill Boulder
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A different take on Brussels sprout sat Zolo Grill in Boulder Wednesday Nov. 6 2019.

The endless chile war being waged between Colorado and New Mexico may never reach détente because there may never be a definitive answer to which state grows the best chiles. Do the famous Hatch chiles of New Mexico beat out the beloved Mirasol chiles grown around Pueblo? We can’t answer that. But we have a suggestion for how to bury that hatchet — at least for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Simply celebrate chiles in all their spicy variety. Banish the bland and put some zing into your Thanksgiving meal by adding chiles.

Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner made a visit to Zolo Grill, a Boulder restaurant that specializes in southwestern cuisine, to sample chile-spiked Thanksgiving dishes with chef Kyle Mendenhall. There are a cornucopia of ways to integrate chiles into everything from your pre-dinner Thanksgiving cocktail to your no-relation-to-pumpkin-pie dessert.

Thanksgiving Turkey Zolo Grill Boulder
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner, left, interviews Executive Chef Kyle Mendenhall in the kitchen at Zolo Grill in Boulder Wednesday Nov. 6 2019.

Mendenhall’s twist on the Thanksgiving tradition begins with a bright red chile-infused cocktail called Smokin’ Hot Beets. Follow that with an ancho chile-marinated turkey breast, Brussels sprouts with bell peppers and corn muffins with red pepper jam. For dessert: a cascabel pepper-spiked chocolate tart.

Zolo Grill will not be serving these dishes on Thanksgiving because, for the 15th year, the restaurant will partner with the Imagination Foundation to serve a free traditional turkey dinner and all the fixins to more than 300 families.

Thanksgiving Turkey Zolo Grill Boulder
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A Thanksgiving turkey marinated in red chile sauce at Zolo Grill in Boulder Wednesday Nov. 6, 2019.

But you can have a very chile Thanksgiving at home — just avoid any high-on-the-Scoville-unit arguments around the table about which state has the best chiles. It’s a day for giving thanks, and that includes for chiles — of all varieties, from all locations.

The recipes:

"Smokin' Hot Beets" cocktail

Thanksgiving Turkey Zolo Grill Boulder
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A chile-infused cocktail at Zolo Grill in Boulder Wednesday Nov. 6 2019.

1 1/2 ounce Gem & Bolt Mezcal (available at Hazel's)
3/4 ounce Beet juice concentrate
3/4 ounce Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
1/2 ounce Cranberry juice concentrate
1/2 ounce Lemon juice
Lemon wheel and sprig of thyme, for garnish

Combine all ingredients except lemon wheel and thyme sprig with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake until outside is icy, then strain into a glass and garnish with lemon and thyme.

Ancho Chile Marinade

Makes 1 pint


2 Ancho chiles
1 Guajillo chiles
4 ounces black garlic
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, whole
½ teaspoon cumin seed, whole
½ teaspoon coriander seed, whole
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup chile soaking liquid (instructions follow)
½ cup olive oil

  1. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles. Place chiles into a bowl deep enough that you can cover the chiles with water. Pour boiling water on to of the chiles and allow to rehydrate for 10 minutes before using.
  2. Over medium heat, toast the black pepper, cumin, and coriander in a dry sauté pan for a few minutes until very aromatic. Shake often and be careful not to burn the spices. Let spices cool and blend in a spice grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) until ground to a fine powder.
  3. After 10 minutes, remove the chiles from the water, reserving half of the water for the marinade.
  4. Place all ingredients except the olive oil into a blender and blend until smooth.
  5. With the blender running on medium speed, slowly add the oil in a slow, steady stream until the marinade emulsifies into a cohesive sauce.
  6. Allow to cool before using. Serve sauce atop turkey or alongside it.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Serves 6 people


1 ½ pounds Brussels sprouts
1 tablespoons red bell pepper, small dice
1 tablespoons yellow bell pepper, small dice
1 tablespoon poblano pepper, small dice
2 tablespoons red onion, small dice
5 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 450˚F. Place a metal baking sheet tray in the oven to heat up.
  2. Heat a sauté pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the bell peppers, red onion, and poblano pepper and saute until softened and aromatic. Reserve for later use.
  3. Cut off the brown ends of Brussels sprouts, remove any loose or yellow outer leaves, and cut the Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise. Note: If your Brussels sprouts are really big, you may want to quarter them.
  4. Mix the Brussels sprouts with the remaining olive oil, salt and pepper. Take the sheet tray out of your oven, pour the Brussels sprouts onto the sheet tray, and roast them in your oven for 15 minutes (they should be crispy and browned on the outside and tender on the inside)
  5. Toss the Brussels sprouts with the reserved roasted pepper and onion mixture. Taste them to make sure they don’t need any more salt (I like my Brussels sprouts salty like French fries). Sprinkle the toasted almonds on top of Brussels sprouts to garnish and serve.

“Old Style” Corn Muffin (makes about 12 2-ounce muffins)

Dry Ingredients:

185 grams blue cornmeal
15 grams granulated sugar
4 grams baking powder
5 grams salt
8 grams Zolo Voodoo Spice (you may substitute chile powder)
125 grams Maseca (masa harina, corn flour)
10 grams baking soda

Wet Ingredients:

350 grams corn (frozen or fresh, off the cob)
3 eggs
50 grams olive oil
75 grams buttermilk
60 grams crema (you can substitute sour cream)
50 grams water
Smoked Maldon Salt (for garnish as needed)
Voodoo Spice (or chile powder; for garnish as needed)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Mix well with a whisk, being sure to break down any clumps.
  3. In a separate large mixing bowl, combine all the wet ingredients and mix well with a whisk.
  4. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well. Let sit for 10 mins.
  5. Grease a muffin tin with non-stick spray or line with paper cups.
  6. Place a 1-ounce portion of batter in each cup.
  7. Place a pinch of the Smoked Maldon salt and Voodoo Spice on each muffin before baking.
  8. Bake the muffins for about 15-20 mins or until golden.

Red Pepper Jam

Makes 1 quart


3 large red bell peppers
1 ounce red chile flakes
¾ cups granulated sugar
3 ½ cups cider vinegar

  1. Take the red peppers and blacken the skins over a flame of your sauté burner.
  2. Allow the peppers to cool a little before removing the stems and seeds. Using your knife, scrap the blackened skin from the peppers and discard. Coarsely chop the peppers.
  3. Add chopped bell peppers, chile flakes, sugar, and vinegar to a pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
  4. Purée the mixture in a blender until slightly chunky. Transfer to jars and refrigerate.

Cascabel Chocolate Tart

8 servings


1 portion tart dough (recipe below)
1 batch cascabel chocolate filling (recipe below)
Candied Fresno chiles for garnish, optional

  1. Heat oven to 350˚F
  2. Roll the tart dough out to a roughly 10-inch circle.
  3. Lay the rolled-out tart dough into a 9-inch tart pan and lightly press into sides and bottom. Pierce the dough with a fork multiple times to eliminate bubbling while baking.
  4. Cover the tart shell with parchment and baking weights (we use dried beans) and blind bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the parchment and baking weights and continue to bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  5. Pour the chocolate filling into your tart shell. Place the tart into the refrigerator and allow to set for 3 hours.
  6. Before serving, take the tart out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before you plan to serve to allow filling to soften before cutting.
Tart Dough

Makes enough for three 9-inch tarts


1 pound butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
Pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
4 cups all-purpose flour

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using a handheld mixer, cream (beat) the butter with the powdered sugar and salt until the mixture is very light and fluffy.
  2. Add the vanilla paste and mix until incorporated.
  3. In three batches, pausing to scrape the bowl between additions, add the flour to the butter mixture and mix until just combined.
  4. Portion dough out into 3 discs. Wrap the discs in plastic and refrigerate overnight before using. [Note: The extra two tart doughs will hold nicely in your freezer for up to a month for future use. Make sure to wrap tightly with plastic wrap before freezing.]
Cascabel Chocolate Tart Filling

Makes enough for 1 tart


14 ounces 53% chocolate
12 fluid ounces heavy cream
5 fluid ounces whole milk
½ cup granulated sugar
6 cascabel chiles

  1. Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and coarsely tear with your hands into smaller pieces.
  2. In a small pot, add the cream, milk, sugar, and cascabel chiles and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat
  3. While the cream mixture is coming to a simmer, measure out your chocolate in a bowl that is big enough to hold both the chocolate and eventually the cream mixture.
  4. Once the cream has come to a simmer, remove the pot from the stove and purée the mixture in a blender. [Note: Use caution when puréeing warm liquids in a blender.] The mixture should take on a beautiful rust color.
  5. Pleace a fine strainer above the chocolate. Pour the blended chile-cream mixture through the strainer onto the chocolate. (This step is important to remove the small pieces of chile so your tart is smooth and silky.)
  6. Allow the cream mixture to sit and soften the chocolate for a few minutes before whisking together.
Candied Fresno

Makes enough for multiple uses


5 Fresno peppers
1 cup water
3 cups granulated sugar (plus some extra for coating chiles)

  1. Remove the top and seeds from the Fresno chiles and slice into rings or whatever shape you want.
  2. In a small pot, bring the sugar and water to a boil.
  3. Once boiling, add the Fresno chiles to the sugar mixture and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Strain the Fresno chiles from the sugar mixture [Note: You can reserve the chile-flavored sugar water to make chile toffee or caramel with the sugar water if you don’t want to waste it.]
  5. Once the chiles have drained, toss them in 2 cups of granulated sugar to coat. Spread the chiles out on a sheet tray and allow to air dry overnight before using.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted the chile variety grown around Pueblo, Colo.