Salsa Masterclass with Smoke and Ash

Casa Sagrada  sits atop the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle. Located 25 km (15 miles) southeast of Oaxaca city, the village is not only renowned for its colourful and intricate tapetes but also for many distinct regional dishes.

The cooking classes at Casa Sagrada translates some of these regional dishes, making them accessible to the neophyte. The cooking demos are done in both Spanish and English and culminate in a sit down lunch.

One of the dishes they highlight on the menu, that would be easy to reproduce at home , is the Salsa de Miltomate y Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca. Translation? Tomatillos are known as miltomates here and the dried chilie pasilla of Oaxaca is a dried and smoked chilie produced only in the Mixe region of Oaxaca state.
You’ll find it in many guises in Oaxaca: stuffed with cheese, battered and fried as in a relleno, ground into a smooth  paste called chintextle, or used to flavour a salsa.
But this salsa you won’t find in a city restaurant  – the chilies are first roasted in hot ash!
Traditionally it would be made ala minute while a cook is still tending to her food by the fire, but for class purposes the hardwood ash is collected and sifted to remove any big pieces and heated in a cast iron skillet. (Guess what I brought home? No, not a cast iron skillet).
The chilies are buried in the hot ash and slowly turned around to puff up.

Cool, isn’t it?
The chilies are shaken of any excess ash and sound just like a rattle.
A good soak in hot water to make them pliable. Seeds and stems are removed.
Meanwhile, cooked tomatillos and cloves of garlic are at the ready.
The chilies and garlic are blended first, using just a bit of the soaking liquid to free up the blender blades.
The tomatillos are blended separately, then the two are mixed together in the serving bowl. A dark red salsa is revealed.
Our instructor Mary Jane Gagnier says that the ash gives the salsa a dark look with a sweeter, smoother flavour. It is incredibly delicious. Sweet, smooth, smokey and hot and so addictive.
Serve with your favourite tostadas.
If you had the ingredients, do you think you would try it on your own? I’ll be attempting my own version in a few weeks and will report back.

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