A 3-Chile Salsa with Oaxacan Smokiness

“Oaxaca loves smoky flavours,” says Pilar Cabrera, “roasted tomatillos, mezcal, desserts of leche quemada.” She is also referring to the smoked chile pasilla de Oaxaca, an ingredient being used in the cooking class I attended last December.
Pilar, owner of La Olla Restaurant in Oaxaca and La Casa de los Sabores Cooking School first led us through the neighbourhood Merced market buying and pointing out key ingredients before assembling the group of willing students back to her home kitchen.

I’m a huge fan of the smoked chile, you can see my previous posts about it¬†here, here, and here.
The dried and smoked chile hails from the Mixe (mee-hay) region of Oaxaca and is offered in various sizes; the large ones are best used for stuffing, the small for salsas. The chiles are also ground with garlic and sea salt for chintextle, a delicious paste that can be thinned out using cooked tomatillos, or with tomatoes, like I’ve done in the past, cooked along with mushrooms for a smoky, spicy sauce for pasta.
In class, we used the small pasillas along with chiles de arbol and chiles moritas for a 3-chile salsa with addition of roasted gusanos (agave worms), another Oaxaca specialty. It was a more-ish mix we liberally added to the tamales we assembled and steamed. (More on that later).
Back at home, with chiles in hand, I recreated the salsa from her recipe.
Five each of chiles moritas, arbol and chile pasilla de Oaxaca (clockwise, the pasilla is at top left, chile de arbol and chile morita).

Lightly toast the chiles on a heated comal, or cast iron pan, just enough to release their aroma. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with hot water. Set aside to soak until softened. Remove stems from chiles. Keep those seeds in. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid.
On the comal, or cast iron pan, toast 350 grams of tomatillos, that have been husked and washed. Toast evenly on all sides, blackened in spots, until they change colour from bright to dull green. Toast three garlic cloves in their skins, until softened and blackened. Remove the garlic from their skins, popping them into a blender with a good pinch of sea salt. Add a few tomatillos and grind to a paste.

Alternately add the softened chilies and tomatillos to the blender, blending until smooth. Adjust the consistency by adding some chile soaking water. Salt to taste.
The salsa is muy picosa but the heat is even and adds luscious heat and smokiness to any dish from a creamy guacamole to the chicken and bean burrito I had for lunch.

It’s even hotter the next day.



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