Vegan Chef Raya Belna Adds Heat With Hatch

Her winning OC Fair dish will give you a new perspective on kale, too

If I said I have a good kale recipe in the blog today, would your clickin’ finger immediately get itchy? I understand completely—but, hear me out. Maybe if I told you New Mexico Hatch chilies are involved it would help.

During the recently concluded OC Fair I was asked to judge a chef competition with a vegan theme. Raw-food chef Jenny Ross, owner of the 118 Degrees restaurants, faced off with Raya Belna, the vegan chef familiar to many from her stint on Seabirds Truck, including during the second season of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.” Working with identical boxes of plant-based ingredients, both chefs created dishes that would have pleased the pickiest omnivore. In the end, Ross’ sophisticated plating earned the award for appearance, and Belna’s irresistible flavor profiles won the taste category.

The contest coincided with the start of Hatch season, and both chefs made use of the long, bright green chilies. Whether you like mild, medium, or hot, there’s still time to restock your own Hatch supply. Ralphs stores in Huntington Beach and Villa Park will roast chilies from Frieda’s on Saturday (get details here). Melissa’s Produce roasting events will take place at O.C. Bristol Farms and Gelson’s on upcoming weekends (day and location info here). And, Albertsons plans Hatch roasts in Buena Park and La Habra (click here for info).

Once you have your roasted-and-peeled Hatches, Belna’s recipe is a snap. It’s a pesto made with curly kale, pine nuts, olive oil, and citrus juice in addition to mild Hatch. (You could certainly use medium or hot, or a combination.) Belna served it with cooked small potatoes, an inspired pairing. I love potatoes with chilies or piquant sauces, but it would work perfectly on pasta or, Belna says, as a sandwich spread.

Hatch-Kale Pesto from Raya Belna

When I saw the hatch chilies and kale, I knew I wanted to do a pesto. The great thing about creamy nuts like pine and cashew is that when combined with lemon juice, they take on a cheesy flavor. This is fantastic for vegan sauces where you want a rich flavor without the dairy.—Raya Belna

3 large cloves garlic, peeled

½ cup pine nuts

1 large or 2 medium leaves curly kale, thick rib removed

3 roasted, peeled mild Hatch chilies

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 lemons, juiced

1 orange, juiced

With food processor running, drop in garlic cloves to mince. Stop machine and add pine nuts, kale leaves, and Hatch chilies and pulse to chop. Add ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds black pepper. With machine running, pour in olive oil slowly. Add lemon and orange juices to taste, and adjust salt and pepper as desired. Serve immediately, or chill to store.