Saturday, January 21, 2006

Winter Salsa

As part of my efforts to eat more seasonally, this winter I am going to try to make Mexican-style salsas for burritos, quesadillas and tacos that do not rely on summer vegetables like tomatoes, tomatillos and fresh chiles. The goal is to use items available at the Berkeley Farmers' Market, dried ingredients (e.g., red chiles), or canned ingredients.

The results of my first efforts are shown in the four-dish photo at the top of the post. The dark red salsas on top are both based on the cascabel chile and sundried tomatoes (one is strained, the other isn't). The bright red salsa in the lower right is chile de arbol and sundried tomato. The greenish-brown salsa in the lower left is made from tomatillos (still available at the Farmers' Market), canned chipotle chiles, onion and cilantro. I used the salsa on flour tortilla quesadillas with monterey jack cheese, roasted butternut squash, and black beans. The salsas would also be excellent on tacos, sopes, or just about anything needing some zing.

Cascabel - Sundried Tomato Salsa
Cascabel means "little bell", a name that derives from the shape of the chile (see photo below) and the fact that the seeds come loose when the chile dries. It is relatively mild, with a Scoville rating of 3,000 (for reference, the Habanero has a heat rating of 300,000 Scoville units. See note below for more about Scoville and chile heat.). This chile is about flavor. In the salsa, I noted aromas and flavors of chocolate, coffee and fruit (raisins and apples).


12 Cascabel chiles
5 sundried tomato halves, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
1 garlic clove
3/4 cup water

In a dry skillet over medium, toast the chiles, turning frequently, until lightly browned. Allow them to cool, then remove the stem and grind to a powder in a spice grinder (alternatively, just break them into small pieces). Put chile powder, rehydrated tomatoes, garlic and a little bit of the water into a blender jar, and blend until smooth. Add the rest of the water and blend again. For a less rustic salsa, pass the puree through a strainer to remove any bits of chile skin or seed that wasn't fully ground.

Chile De Arbol - Sundried Tomato Salsa
The Chile de Arbol is small and roughly the size of a little finger (see photo below). They are relatively hot, with a Scoville rating of about 25,000.

12 chiles de arbol
5 sundried tomato halves, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
1 garlic clove
3/4 cup water

The method for this salsa is the same as for the Cascabel-Sundried Tomato Salsa, except that the chiles should be toasted for a longer time at a lower temperature so that they become fully dry and crispy.

Tomatillo Salsa
I'm planning a post on roasted tomatillo salsa in the coming weeks, but if you can't wait, check out Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen or (23 versions of tomatillo salsa).

Notes on Chile Heat
The Scoville scale is the most widely used ranking, but is far from perfect. To obtain the rating, human subjects taste samples of chile that is progressively diluted with a neutral substance. The test continues until the taster can no longer detect any chile heat in the sample. Since the tasters are human, there is some subjectivity and variability. Another source of variability of chile heat is the chile itself. The heat level can be affected by growing methods, climate, ripeness at harvest, storage, and the properties of the variety (e.g., some people are working to breed a "heatless" Jalapeno). Sources of information include Chile Today Hot Tamale, chemsoc, Chile Pepper Institute and Uncle Steve's.

Chiles de arbol (left) and chiles cascabel (right)

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Lera said...

Wow,colourful array of salsa...looks great!

Ashwini said...

Marc, first time on your blog. Liked reading your informative posts! Thanks for all the info on chiles.

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