Whenever I have visitors in town or I want to wow dinner guests, I break into my stash of Oaxacan pasilla chiles. I’ve been obsessed with this chile for the past year — unlike the regular chile pasilla, or even the chipotle or mora for that matter, they’re intensely smoky, raisiny, fruity.
My friend Ian was visiting last weekend, so I asked him whether he wanted to make oaxacan pasillas rellenos (someday I’m going to post that recipe for you, it’s divine) or salsa. He chose the latter. I’ve posted a recipe previously for oaxacan pasilla salsa with tomatillos, so we thumbed through Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s excellent book Salsas Mexicanas for another.
The one we found was simple: a mix of rehydrated chiles, garlic and salt. My mouth watered just thinking about it — can you imagine the flavor without the acidity from the tomatoes? It would be a smoke-tobacco-fruit fest.
With Ian on the tejolote, we threw comal-roasted garlic, sea salt and the rehydrated pasillas into the molcajete. He ground everything together for perhaps 20 minutes, adding a few dribbles of water when it looked too thick.
The result was a gorgeous, deep red paste. We dipped our noses closer to the molcajete, inhaled, and sighed. It was as smoky and intense as we’d imagined. We ate the salsa with totopos I’d made from old tortillas baked in the oven. The next day, I spooned some onto my quesadillas.
If you can’t find the Oaxacan chile pasilla, you could try substituting chile chipotle or morita. The basic idea of letting the chile shine with a little bit of garlic is a good one, I think.
Simple Oaxacan chile pasilla salsa
Makes about 1 very spicy cup
Note: The original recipe didn’t call for roasting the garlic on the comal, but we did it anyway, because Ian and I both prefer the taste. The original recipe also called for keeping the seeds and grinding them in the salsa, but we only added a pinch. It’s still very hot.
If you’re substituting dried chipotles, I’d stick with three large ones. Canned chipotles tend to be a little hotter, but you might try using three and see what happens. (Or start with two large ones and go from there.) If you’re using dried moras, which tend to be smaller, I’d do perhaps five or six.
You could also make this salsa in a blender, if you don’t have a molcajete. If you do have one, I’d use it, as you get more control over the texture/consistency.
My ideal consistency here was a thick sauce — thinner than tomato paste, but not as runny as a taquería salsa. In any case, the consistency doesn’t matter so much, because it’s going to taste good no matter what.
4 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 oaxacan chile pasillas* (see note)
sea salt to taste
Heat a comal or dry skillet on the stovetop. Add garlic cloves to the outer edge of the pan, where the heat isn’t so intense, and cook until golden brown and soft on both sides, turning occasionally. If you leave them too long on the comal and they blacken in spots, just shave off the those pieces with a knife. You don’t want them because they’re bitter.
Meanwhile, use a dish towel to rub off any dust that might have collected on the chiles. Add them to the comal and quickly toast, until the skin has softened slightly and the chiles become aromatic. This should take maybe 10 or 15 seconds at the most.
Remove the chiles to a work space. Using kitchen shears, cut off the chile stems, slice open the chiles, and remove the seeds and veins. Save a few seeds on the side, if you’d like to add them to your salsa later. (Do NOT use your fingers to de-seed/de-vein — the seeds are super hot. I’d use a knife or little spoon.) Cover the chiles with hot water and let rest until the skin has softened, perhaps 10 minutes.
Peel the garlic. In a molcajete, add the garlic and a pinch of sea salt. Grind together until it forms a paste. Then add the chiles, one at a time unless you’re a whiz on the molcajete. Grind each chile until you no longer see big pieces of chile skin, and you’ve got a uniform paste. Add more water as you go, if it looks too thick.
Taste for salt. Serve at room temperature with your favorite chips, tacos or quesadillas.
Who is Mija?
Mija is Lesley Téllez, a food writer and culinary guide in New York City. I spent four years in Mexico's Distrito Federal, which launched my deep love for Mexican food and culture. In 2010 I co-founded the tourism company Eat Mexico.
Be kind, ask permission!All photos on this site were taken by me, unless otherwise noted. If you'd like to use a photo, please email me.
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