One of the most amazing culinary contributions of Mexico, aside from tacos, is it’s vast array of salsas. Go to any stand serving empanadas, tacos, or various other savoury options, and you’re almost guaranteed to find a source of pride, their own particular homemade, chili salsa.
While in many parts of the world, people are content to hit up their local Mexican or latino food store for a selection of pre-made salsas, that simply wouldn’t make the cut here. The problem is, unless you grew up here, or have a cultural background familiar with salsas or chilies, you may pass right on by the chilies in your local store, with nary a glance, not realizing what you’re missing.
I once absent mindedly ordered ‘Three Mile Island’ dressing in a restaurant, and with great presence of mind, they brought me ‘Thousand Island Dressing’ – and a bottle of chili sauce.Terry Pratchett
Not knowing the flavours or variety of chilies, whether to use them dried or fresh, whether they’re hot, or not-so-much, or even the basics of how to prepare them – can make the idea of adding them to your kitchen repertoire intimidating. But at the same time, the numerous ways chilies can be used to enhance or flavour dishes, makes them indispensable and worth investigating.
Whether it’s the favoured Jalepeño popper appetizer, or homemade chili powder or salsa, cooking with chilies doesn’t have to be elaborate or intimidating and may be much easier than you think.
Chilies can be used dried or fresh, stuffed, dried, pickled, boiled, ground up – just about anything you can come up with. They grow in a range of sweet and mild, or fruity, smoky and of course, tongue scorching hot, but most important is the fact they do come in a range of heat and flavour. So don’t be worried you’ll never be a chilies fan because you assume they’re only for the numb-of-tongue, even with a low tolerance for heat, you might be surprised at what you can do with them.
One of the easiest ways to add some chili into your life is to do a basic salsa. Try grilling a jalapeño on the grill, or holding it over the gas flame with some fire-proof tongs. You can also pan fry it (dry cook it, don’t use any oil or butter) if the previous options aren’t available to you. All you need to do is char it until the skin turns black. At this point, don’t bother to sweat it to remove the skin, instead, leave the burnt skin on. Cut open the chilie(s) and de-seed it, then add the charred chili into a blender or food processor. Grill some onion and tomatillos and add them, or make it really simple and add a chunk of raw white onion and some fresh tomatillos, then a handful of fresh cilantro and salt and lime juice to taste – voilà! Fresh, homemade green salsa! Each change to the ingredients, changes the flavour. Raw onion vs blackened. Raw garlic vs roasted in the oven. There’s lots of ways to play with the basics and change the resulting dish.
You could probably spend at least an hour, or more, sitting and chatting with people about the variations on salsas that can be made – yes, the options are that extensive. And that would probably just scratch the surface of chili recipes out there. Marinades, stuffed chilies, soups, roasted…the list goes on. So to get you started, Deliciosa has gone through that amazing thing called the web, and found some recipes to start you off on a grand chili adventure. Check out the links below.
Be brave, chilies are a wonderful and exciting addition to the kitchen repertoire.
Dried Chili Marinade – Kiwilimón
Dried Chili Salsa – Epicurious
Beef Birria – México in my Kitchen
Ancho – Arbol Chili Pepper Salsa – México in my Kitchen
Garlic and Pasilla Chili Soup – Food & Wine
Noodle Soup with Guajillo – Kiwilimón
For a plethora of stuffed pepper recipes, check out this list by Chili Madness!
Chicken Tinga – Chili Madness
Rajas con Crema – Muy Delish
Buen provecho amigos!