Have you ever tried making salsa from scratch? I’m not talking about pico de gallo, the chopped up tomato-onion-cilantro combo that sometimes gets mistaken for salsa. Nope, I’m thinking of Mexican salsa that comes in endless varieties and has as its base dried chiles.

Making salsa is actually easy–promise!–and doesn’t take much time. I had fun whipping up a batch yesterday with my teen and her friends. It took all of 20 minutes. We probably could have made it faster but we were chatting and sampling as we went.

Here are the basics:

  • You can find dried chiles usually in the produce section or in the Mexican food aisle of your grocery store.
  • My suggestion would be to start with larger chiles, like Ancho (my fav) or Mulato. They’re easier to seed than the smaller (but still tasty) Arbol chiles. Guajillo is right in between, but for newbies Ancho is also milder.
  • You’ll need to remove the seeds from the chiles before pan roasting them.
  • Plan on tweaking the salsa to suit your tastes: If you want to add some tomatoes to the mix, canned or fresh, by all means, go for it. If you want it sweeter, a little honey; more tart, a little vinegar. You get the idea. (I added sundried tomatoes to this batch.)
  • I triple the recipe below and then save the extras in cleaned out raspberry jam jars.

My salsa recipe turns out differently every time, so I’m passing along a tweaked version of Rick Bayless‘ Toasty Arbol or Guajillo Chile Salsa from his excellent cookbook Mexican Everyday.


Prep time: 20 minutes

Servings: About 1 cup


2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 dried Ancho chiles

3 garlic cloves, peeled

4 medium tomatillos (or Roma tomatoes), cut in half


  1. Remove the stems and seeds from the Ancho chiles. How? I use kitchen shears to cut around the stem and then shake the seeds onto a paper towel, then discard.
  2. Bring the oil to medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed skillet.
  3. Add the chiles and watch carefully until they begin to soften, then remove (about 1 minute). Submerge the chiles into a bowl of hot water and let them sit while you’re preparing the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Wipe the oil out of the pan and add the garlic and tomatillos (or tomatoes), cut side down. Cook for about 2-3 minutes then place the tomatillos and garlic in a blender.
  5. Drain the water from the chiles and add them to the blender.
  6. Pour in 1/2 cup water and puree until smooth. Continue adding in water until the salsa reaches your desired consistency. I like to make it a little runnier since it will thicken a bit as it cools.
  7. Now for the tweaks: I usually add salt, a teaspoon or two of red cider vinegar and a pinch of sugar or a drizzle of honey.
  8. Serve with tacos, chips, or tostadas.
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