Saturday, July 11, 2009

Restaurant Envy: Chile de Arbol Salsa

For many months now, I have been madly in love with a particular salsa at our local Mexican joint. There are the usual salsas and then there is this thick, fiery, tangy concoction that sets my heart tongue ablaze. It is the chile de arbol salsa that is part of their salsa bar, and I finally decided that I must make it at home so I can unlimited access to this addictive stuff. I'm too shy (hah!) to ask them for the recipe, however, so this restaurant envy must be overcome by good old trial and error.

At the international store, I always catch myself staring at the wall of dried chile peppers, whispering the lyrical names- ancho, pasilla, guajillo, habanero- and this time, I actually remembered to buy a pack of the chiles de arbol.


A hunt for a salsa recipe yielded this recipe on Slashfood that comes from a Mexican chef, and it seemed like a good place to start. With only 5 ingredients- chile de arbol, tomatillos, olive oil, onion and cilantro- I knew that this salsa would have clean flavors at the very least. Here's how I made the salsa.

Chile de Arbol Salsa


Inspired by a recipe on Slashfood

7 tomatillos, cut into quarters
10 chiles de arbol
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ onion, chopped roughly
Handful of cilantro leaves, chopped roughly
¾ cup water
Salt to taste

1. Heat oil and saute the chiles de arbol briefly.
2. Add tomatillos and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the tomatillos collapse.
3. Turn off the heat. Add onion and cilantro and let the mixture cool for a bit.
4. Blend it into a thick salsa. Add salt to taste.

I scrambled around to grab a spoon and taste the salsa as soon as it was ready. The color of the salsa was disappointingly insipid, but it tasted pretty darn close to the stuff in the restaurant!! These are FIERCE peppers- apparently the chile de arbol only rate in the middle of the Scoville heat scale, but their heat is searing and I used a lot of them in this salsa.

Next time I make this salsa, there are some tweaks I might try, based on other recipes I found on the web, such as using a combination of tomatillos and red tomatoes (to give it the bright red color "just like in the restaurant"), adding a bit of garlic or roasting the tomatoes and tomatillos for a smoky flavor, but I love this version of the salsa already.

I'm sending a bowl of this fiery salsa to the Monthly Mingle: Mexican Fiesta edition.


  1. You are making my mouth water. I bought some tamales and tomatillo salsa yesterday at my local farmers market and was just thinking of replicating that salsa (it is delcious-like a mexican corriander chutney!!)..but this looks very yummy too

  2. well...atleast you are close to the restaurant stuff...i am waiting for the version you are
    100 % satisfied :D...Hope you are having a fun weekend :)

  3. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmm! This one is HOT HOT HOT!

  4. Hi Nupur, you're on a Latin American kick -- I love it! Friday I was heading downtown Boston to pick up my son and had time to kill -- stopped in a Latin American store and bought some aji panca paste made from a Peruvian pepper. Can't wait to try that. Your salsa and the previous rice/beans casserole both look delicious! :)

  5. Yummmmmy!!
    I also love salsas too much!!

  6. Looks yumm. I have never cooked anything Mexican, have to do it sometime. Your recipe is tempting.

  7. I like hot, but I'm not sure about searing hot... I think at some point my taste buds just shut down and all I taste is the heat. I love salsa though, so perhaps a toned-down version of this one for me :)

  8. Lavanya- Now you are making my mouth water! Salsas are rather easy to replicate at home, the best ones have few ingredients, I think. Tamales and salsa- sounds sooo good!

    Rajitha- I am having a fun weekend, but thunderstorms made us postpone a small hike, so I pouting a little :D

    Musical- Hello, my dear! How are you doing? Yes, this one is hot and I think you will love it :)

    Linda- I am jumping between Latin American inspired and Middle Eastern inspired these days! Please share with us what you make with the aji panca paste, it sounds delicious!

    chakhlere- Me too :)

    Shilpa- We love our (non-authentic, Indianized) Mexican food because it combines beans and veggies and is spicy and tasty :)

    Cathy- Oh, this one is searing hot, but that's because I used 10 peppers in what was a couple of cups of salsa. You could dramatically reduce the number of chillies and still get something spicy and flavorful, for sure.

  9. I love salsa that's hot enough to make you sweat, and this sounds like one of those salsas. I'll definitely try it, with the full number of chilies.

  10. Fiesta, indeed! 10 chilis de arbol; you're much braver than I am. ;)

  11. Real Mexican

    Salsa de Chile de Arbol:

    A lose handful of dry Chiles de Arbol, stems removed.

    1 small onion
    2-3 cloves of garlic

    cilantro stems, or leaves

    a couple of tomatos

    a deep fry pan or a casserole.

    Put the whole tomatoes, the onion cut in quarters in the pan/pot and gently fry until the tomato skin and the onion is brown in some places. Add dry chiles and fry for about 1-2 minutes.

    In a blender put 1/3 (approx) cup of water. Add all the ingredients from the pot/pan plus the cilentro stalks and blend to desired consistency , byt adding more water, if required.
    Return to the very hot pot/pan should spluter and cook for a few minutes.....the color will change to a beautiful red.
    Season with salt....I use Bovril...most mexican housewives use Maggi, Knorr or similar.

    The same Salsa can be made raw in a blender and then cooked takes all of 5 minutes.
    Real chile de arbol salsa does not have tomatillos, because tomatillos make it Salsa Verde ( green sauce ).

    Mexico City

  12. I forgot to add that the handful of chiles is what I use. I like it fiery.
    One can use less chiles; 7-10 sound good....or , the heat of the chiles can be toned down with more tomatoes....but not tomatillos if you want to typical Chile de Arbol Salsa.....


  13. what a great combination Nupur! I agree tomatillo would add another layer of tang to the salsa. I can't wait to try this too!

  14. This recipe is pretty close to the recipe at my absolute favorite burrito place in Pasadena, CA. One of their old cooks told me of a couple of small tweaks that I now use when I make this. I'm not sure if these changes will keep it true to your favorite place, but it sure makes a tasty salsa:

    * Rather than sauteing briefly in oil, dry roast the chiles in a hot pan. "Until it feels like chemical warfare in your kitchen," according to my cook buddy.

    * Throw in a couple of roughly minced cloves of garlic along with the onion.

    * For additional sweetness and flavor, and to stimulate that rich, deep , red you're going for - add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. I know it's sounds like a cheat - that's what I said when he told me - but it works a treat!

  15. So much of useful info even in your comments section. I was told to dry roast the chiles, but I think I like your recipe better

  16. Lydia- YAY for spicy food; please do try this, I think you will love it.

    Lisa- Next time, I might go just a bit lower ;) my taste buds are nearly seared off but it was sooo good!

    Droelma- Thank you so much for taking the time to share your recipe! It sounds fantastic and I will be making it very soon. I'll write a post to let you know how it works out.
    I am intrigued by the use of bovril instead of salt for seasoning. Maybe I will use my vegetarian stock base, I can see how that would add more flavor than plain salt would.

    Mandira- Tomatillos do add a great sour punch to this salsa, and I am still enjoying this salsa very much as an after-work snack with chips.

    David- I really appreciate your comment; thank you for sharing these secrets! I am definitely going to try these tweaks and will let you know how that goes via another post here!

    Rajesh & Shankari- I know- people are so generous with sharing their own recipes and variations. I'm going to try it all different ways to see what I like best :)

    Namita- I'm be working to tweak this recipe but it tasted great to begin in Texas, you must have access to wonderful chillies and peppers. This salsa is worth a try!

  17. What a refreshing recipe! Loved the picure. I too have a similar looking wooden plate.

  18. Meera- The wooden (I think it is bamboo, maybe) plate was a gift from a relative, and I just realized that I should start using it as a food blog prop :D

  19. Great recipe and blog, I love making various salsas using gaujillo, pasilla, puya, chipotle, chile de arbol, cascabel etc. In fact, one of my recipes uses 5 kinds of chilies, it's called "salsa des muchos chiles" - salsa of many chiles - aptly named! I dry roast my chilies and I also fire roast tomatoes for a smoky flavor. You can use organic canned fire roasted tomatoes (Muir brand).

  20. By salsa I guess you mean hot sauce and not diced onions, tomatoes, and spices (salsa mexicana).

    I've never seen good (red/hot) salsa made with tomatoes, anywhere. The most important step is to fire roast the peppers. They should be almost 25% blackened. It's best to do this outside on a grille so you don't 'gas' yourself in your kitchen. After that put these ingredients in a blender and liquify (the amounts are up to you):

    fire blackened chile de arbol or chile de japones
    white onion
    ground cumin
    ground oregano

    Keep refrigerated, eat within a day or two and NEVER add vinegar.


  21. That "salsa roja" is the same ocher color in the restaurants here in Tucson.


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