Ancho Chile Salsa with Habanero

Summer isn’t exactly the season where people dive into spicy heated Mexican cooking. It seems most people sway towards pasta salads, fruity cocktails and grilling.

Fair enough.

But my Señor Verde’s Chicken Enchiladas went over big both in terms of web hits and compliments to the chef. Plus, my last trip to Super King’s produce section left me with an abundance of dried peppers, tomatoes and tomatillos looking to find their way into something, so here’s a spicy little salsa, slow-cooked to bring out every last hint of flavor.

Without the single habanero I added to the original recipe, this salsa is perfect to bring with you to a summer barbeque or picnic.

With the habanero, you might want to be a bit more selective about the people with whom you decide to share it.

And before we go any further, just to get our maracas off a bit, let’s all take a gander at a six-year-old Señor Verde, getting in touch with his Hispanic roots south of the border in San Felipe, Mexico, nineteen-seventy-bruh-huh bruh-huh. I’ll say this for myself. I know a good sombrero when I see it. I wonder if my family played checkers on me after I fell asleep.

An ancho chile is the name of a dried poblano chile. Poblanos are common in cooking and one of the more mild peppers. The dried pod is dark purple and black in color and can be three to six inches long and up to about three inches wide.

Guajillo chiles are long and deep red in color. They are also fairly mild and used primarily for sauces, especially tamale sauce for which the chiles are seeded and ground into a paste to be cooked alongside a variety of other ingredients.

So, I’m making a salsa with a couple mild chiles… all fine and well, but I like my food to have a bit of a kick. I like food that doesn’t go down without a fight, and I was concerned that this recipe, as is, would not have the desired heat level I like in a salsa, so… in went a habanero.

Habaneros, as you may know, are NOT mild. They’re actually some of the more intensely spicy chiles, rated 100,000 and 350,000 on the Scoville scale. For comparison, a guajillo chile pepper rates between 2,500 and 8,000 and the poblano between 500 and 2,500.

Habaneros should never be eaten raw, like say, a poblano or an Anaheim might be. If you don’t believe me, head to YouTube and enter “habanero” as a search word. There’s a variety of morons who’ve taken the challenge and proven that a habanero deserves a wariness its diminutive size and bright enticing color don’t automatically elicit.

One habanero, seeded and cored, was chopped up and added into this salsa. it added a nice heated zip, but you won’t need a glass of ice water handy, so I highly recommend its addition.

Ancho Chile Salsa with Habanero

Adapted from: Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta by Deborah Schneider

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 small garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 2 dried ancho chiles, seeded and torn into pieces
  • 1 habanero chile, seeded, cored and chopped fine
  • 3 dried guajillo or California chiles, seeded and torn into pieces
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, cored, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 4 large green tomatillos, husks removed, washed, and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups water or basic vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Mexican oregano, or 1 tablespoon dried (see note)
  • Fresh cilantro (12 sprigs), about 1/2 cup, stemmed and chopped

In a 10-inch sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and dried chiles, and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are soft and you can smell the chiles.

Add the tomatoes and tomatillos, reduce the heat slightly, and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add the water or stock, 1 teaspoon of salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 20 minutes.

Stir in the oregano, cool for a few minutes, puree the sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth, then stir in the cilantro.

Chill for several hours before serving unless using to top another hot dish.

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