How to Make Red Chili Salsa

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Chili salsa is quick to make, and if you have access to a range of fresh and dried chilies, the homemade version will be tastier than what you can find in the store. Making the salsa at home also allows you to customize your salsa to fit with a particular dish or to suit individual tastes. Salsa options include recipes that have chilies -- fresh or dried -- as a base as well as others that use chilies as a spice, and have a fruit or vegetables as the base.

Red Chili-Based Salsa

Chili-based salsas benefit from pureeing, as large pieces of chilies can be difficult to eat -- too spicy or too chewy, especially with dried chilies. For a basic red chili salsa, use about 2 cups of red chilies, fresh or dried, to 1 cup of other vegetable(s) or fruit.

A red chili, tomato and roasted red pepper salsa would require that you:

  • Cook the chilies, tomatoes and roasted peppers until the tomatoes have collapsed and softened.

  • Puree the mix in a blender, adding salt, sugar, lime juice, vinegar and water until the desired consistency is reached.

  • Season with spices, such as cinnamon and dried ground coriander, and pureeing further until smooth.

Pour the salsa into an airtight container, and store it in the fridge until it is needed. The salsa can keep for two weeks or more.

Fruit- and Vegetable-Based Chili Salsas

To make a chili salsa that incorporates another ingredient as its primary base -- such as fruits or vegetables -- use fewer chilies, as they would function as a spice in this case, not a primary ingredient. Common vegetable bases for chili salsas include:

  • Tomatoes

  • Tomatillos

  • Roasted sweet red peppers

You can also use fresh fruit as a base for the salsa, to create a more exotic condiment. Choose firmer-fleshed fruits, and feel free to use more chilies, as the natural sweetness of the fruits tempers the heat of the chilies. Common choices include:

  • Pineapple

  • Mango

  • Peach

A vegetable- or fruit-based chili salsa can be cooked or uncooked. A cooked salsa follows a method similar to a chili-based salsa, only the balance of ingredients is different. For uncooked salsas, leave the vegetables and fruits chopped, not pureed, to give the salsa more texture.

A basic uncooked fruit or vegetable-based salsa would be made by:

  • Puree the oil, chilies, spices, lime juice, vinegar, salt and water in a blender. 

  • Toss the mix with 1 to 2 cups of chopped vegetables or fresh fruit, along with a 1/4 cup of minced red onion.

  • Let the salsa rest for 30 minutes before serving it. 

  • This salsa variation will not keep for as long in the fridge -- it will last only three to five days before the texture begins deteriorating.

Chili Pepper Tips

Preparation and Selection

Remove the seeds and the pith, the white vein, from the jalapeños before using them for a milder salsa. For a spicier salsa, keep some or all of the seeds from both the jalapeños and the dried chills.

To choose extra-spicy peppers, look for fresh chili peppers that have a sharply pointed bottom and very narrow shoulders, the portion near the stem. Milder chili peppers will have broader shoulders, even if they have a pointed bottom.

For salsas that rely on dried chilies for heat and spice, use only the freshest dried chilies you can. Dried chilies will still have some flexibility -- they should not be extremely hard -- and have a rich color and an unbroken and unblemished skin.

Changing the type of chili peppers you use will give you differently flavored salsas. Ancho chilies are smoked, so they provide a meaty, woodsy aroma. For something extra spicy, include some habaneros or Birdseye chilies into the salsa. Green chili peppers have a stronger vegetable flavor, while red or orange chili peppers are fruitier.

Warning

  • The capsaicin found in dried and fresh chilies can transfer from the chili to the cutting board and knife. Because of this, wash your knife, cutting board and other utensils with hot water and soap before using them again for other ingredients.

Toasting Chilies

Toasting chilies, namely dried chilies, before using them deepens their aroma and flavor. You can toast chilies dry -- without oil -- or with oil. Reusing the oil from toasting chilies adds richness and extra spice to a chili salsa, whether it is chili-based or not.

To toast chilies:

  • Add the dried chilies to a medium-sized frying pan, and toast on medium heat. Cook them for three minutes, until the chilies are warm, then -- if you are using it  -- add the oil.

  • Fry the chilies until they are fragrant, around two minutes. The chilies will have turned orange in color.

  • Add any aromatics you are using, such as garlic or onion, and cook. Stir regularly, cooking until the aromatics are softened or a golden brown.

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