When opportunity knocked for Kris Young, it looked like a roasted chile.
As a produce manager working at Bashas’, Young met the late Bob Cocuzza, who owned Bob’s Honeybee Roasters. Cocuzza asked Young to help with chile roasting at the St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers Market on Sundays. The informal apprenticeship with Cocuzza lasted five years, and Young learned how to roast Hatch and other chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, summer squashes, garlic and red onions.
However, Cocuzza fell ill in 2014 and offered to sell the business to Young. It was a natural fit for Young, he says, “because I’ve been in customer service all my life, and I love the interaction with people.” So Young purchased the business along with its roasting machines and changed its name to Red’s Roasters.
One look at him explains the Red’s Roasters name. His flame-red hair and beard make him stand out from the crowd, and customers of Bob’s Honeybee Roasters recognized him from his days of assisting Cocuzza. That certainly helped his fledgling business get off to a good start, he says.
He’s not able to source everything locally, he says, but he believes strongly in “local food for local people,” and buys as much locally-grown produce as he can.
June and July are his slowest months. Customers will still find him at farmers markets from 8 a.m. to noon — on Thursdays at Saddlebrooke every other week; on Fridays at Trail Dust Town; on Saturdays at Oro Valley; and on Sunday at Rillito Park.
But these blistering hot, sleepy early summer months precede his busiest season, he says. August and September are Hatch chile season, and last year Young sold ten thousand pounds of Hatch chiles in those two months. Hatch chile devotees buy them by the quart, the gallon and by the 30-pound bag. Because demand is high, Young says, it’s best to order large quantities in advance. “I sell out of Hatch chiles long before the market closes every time,” he says. “When they’re gone, they’re gone.”
He suggests following Red’s Roasters on Facebook to stay in touch, at facebook.com/RedsRoasters.
Other chiles are available all year, Young says. “Arizona’s prime time is October, November and December,” he says. “In January, February, March, April and May, most of the chiles come from California and Mexico.”
Serranos and poblanos, both roasted and raw, offer good alternatives to the highly prized Hatch chiles — serranos for a hit of heat in salsas and enchilada sauces, and poblanos for mild uses such as stuffing with cheese for chile rellenos. Arizonans know all about chiles, of course, and know how to use the jalapeño and bell peppers that Young roasts. He offers roasted chiles and vegetables in quart and gallon bags. The roasted eggplant and onion beg to be made into an almost effortless baba ghanouj, puréed with a couple of cloves of garlic and several tablespoons of tahini.
You may also see Young and his roaster at corporate and public events such as the Tucson Classics Car Show this fall, where he roasts sweet corn. The ears are roasted in the husk, and buyers may dress them as they wish with crema, crumbled cheese and chili powder.
Young is a native Californian who moved to Tucson as a child and has come to love his adopted city. He and his wife, Amanda, have three children: D.J., 22; Caleb, 19; and Aiden, 11. The children occasionally help at the Red’s Roasters farmers market booth, Young says.
I used some of Young’s roasted tomatillos in a refreshing spread where their bright, citrusy flavor lends a refreshing counterpoint to the rich avocados. I don’t think it’s important to remove the charred black bits; they add flavor, too but you may remove them for a more refined appearance if you wish.
Roasted Tomatillo Avocado Spread
Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups
Vegan- and vegetarian-friendly
Try this flavorful spread on a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato or a BLT. You can refrigerate it overnight, but it will eventually discolor after more time than that. Despite the discoloration, the spread is good for up to seven days.
8 ounces roasted tomatillos, about 1 1/2 cups
3 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and minced
1 serrano chile, stemmed, halved and minced
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 avocados, halved and pitted
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Juice from 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
Salt, to taste
In a medium bowl, combine roasted tomatillos, garlic, serrano chile, red onion and olive oil.
Scoop the avocado flesh from its peels. Mash the avocado with a fork and add it to the tomatillo mixture. Stir in cilantro, cumin, oregano and lime juice. Taste and add salt if desired.
Serve with warm corn or flour tortillas or toasted baguette slices, with a garnish of crumbled queso añejo or queso Cotija. Turn this into a dip by thinning with additional olive oil.
Next week: Cindy Burson specializes in heirloom and unusual bean varieties grown in Arizona. A sustainability advocate who has years of experience as a farmer, she’s eager to share her knowledge with you.