I don’t know about you, but nobody ever taught me how to cook with dried chiles. They certainly aren’t programmed into my Eastern European DNA, and my parents didn’t cook much spicy food while I was growing up.
Luckily, mystery ingredients are easily demystified with a simple internet search these days. Chile neophytes are blessed with an embarrassment of recipes by Rick Bayless, patron saint of seekers of authentic Mexican cooking methods written in English. There’s also the option of googling for recipes in Spanish, then translating pages back into English.
In my copious reading, I learned that in order to prepare dried chiles for cooking, one must first toast or fry them in a pan to release their aroma. Next, the chiles need to be hydrated, either by blending into a sauce, or soaking in hot water. Soaked peppers become pliable and soft, and can then added to salsas, stews and marinades.
I chose to go the salsa route with my first foray into dried chile cooking — my tortilla chip-addicted boyfriend was such a fan of my tomato and pepita salsa, I figured I’d try for another win. This one is based on tomatillos and anchos, and also includes toasted pepitas (a.k.a. shelled pumpkin seeds) to offset the chile spice.
We’re big fans of chile heat around here, so I left the seeds in the serrano peppers, and chose to simmer the ancho chiles with their seeds before removing them. Turns out my capsicums weren’t fooling around, and the resulting sauce packed a whole lot of heat. For a more “medium” level of spice, I’d suggest seeding the anchos before toasting, and removing the seeds from all of the fresh peppers before roasting.
This recipe produces about a quart of rich, dark salsa with slightly bitter overtones from the dried chiles. We’ve been eating it with chips, and spooning it onto beans and rice. Mixed with some freshly-squeezed orange juice and a glug or two of chicken broth, it’s a wonderful marinade for chicken thighs and drumsticks, braised slowly and served over rice. It also freezes very well. We’re looking forward to making our way through the rest of this tasty sauce!
Hot and Spicy Ancho Tomatillo Salsa (printer-friendly version)
Makes about 1 quart of salsa
1 lb. tomatillos, peeled, rinsed and halved
4 serrano peppers, halved, seeds left in
4 jalapeño peppers, halved and seeded
1 medium red onion, cut into wedges
1/3 C. raw pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
6 ancho chiles (dried)
1/4 C. olive oil
juice of 2 limes
1/2 C. cilantro leaves
1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat oven to 425F.
2. Place the tomatillos, serrano and jalapeño peppers, and onion on the lined baking sheet, skin side up. Bake for 25 minutes.
3. While the vegetables are roasting, heat a medium (10-inch) cast-iron pan over a medium flame. Add the pepitas and toast for a few minutes, just until browned and beginning to pop. Set aside.
4. In the same cast-iron pan over medium heat, toast the ancho chiles until they begin to become aromatic and lighten in color a bit, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of water and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ancho chiles from the water. Split open, remove seeds, and cut the peppers into 1-inch strips. Set aside.
6. Remove the pan of roasted vegetables from the oven, then turn the heat up to broil. Place the baking sheet in the broiler (or at the top of your oven, wherever the heating element or flame is located) and broil for 5 minutes, until all of the pepper and tomatillo skins are well browned but not blackened. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are still warm but no longer boiling hot.
7. Place the roasted vegetables, toasted pepitas, and seeded, hydrated ancho chilis in a medium (12-cup) food processor. Add the olive oil, lime juice, and cilantro. Process for about 1 minute, until all of the ingredients are blended into a smooth salsa.
Read Full Post »