Chili as Strong as Tarantula Venom

How do you measure success? It is by your state-of-the-art kitchen, the Manolo Blahnik sandals in your closet, or by the new BMW parked in your driveway? Now be honest.
Because if you do, then I feel like, totally sorry for you. Really I do.
Don't get me wrong, you can be justifiably proud of your achievements, but does success or happiness in life depend on amassing wealth? Now that the global economy is near the brink of collapse, perhaps we should turn to Wall Street bankers for their thoughts on the subject.
Oftentimes, whenever I see a picture of an ultra-expensive kitchen with the latest gadgets and appliances, I wonder if people ever cook in such a place—or, is it just for show? And if they do cook, does the food even taste good? Do they make chili salsa the way my mother did, or prepare a big plate of enchiladas? Because let's face it, cooking can be a messy business, and I don't think that a gleaming white kitchen can even survive the explosion of color and smell of chili salsa. I can't count how many times I did not properly fit the lid when I turned on the blender and ended up having to clean chili salsa off the ceiling. Oh well, clumsy me.
Now that we are living in uncertain economic times, how can you make a simple delicious meal without breaking the bank? Like our ancestors before us, you make beans, rice, tortillas and this chili salsa which costs almost nothing to make. Add a green salad and you're set. No only will it fill your stomach, it will comfort you in ways that Coq Au Vin never will.
Before some us lived in McMansions or possessed (now rapidly dwindling) nest eggs we lived in small houses in poor neighborhoods. How can we forget the tiny kitchen, the pokey stove, those mismatched plates? The coughing and choking when the fumes of toasted chilies filled the entire house? The smell of our mother's cooking while everybody gathered round and talked and joked while watching Soul Train on Saturday afternoons? The music of Los Bukis coming from a neighbor's window? Almost nobody we knew had much money, even in good times, and frankly we didn't mind it at all. If you create the same atmosphere of amor in your family, then you are a very successful person, indeed.
And it doesn't cost a thing.

Chili Salsa as Strong as Tarantula Venom (But Better Tasting)
Fact: Who knew that our delicate taste buds do not even register chili's searing heat? Curiously, that burning sensation occurs when chilies and tarantula venom target a specific pain receptor. In fact, some chilies are as strong as tarantula venom. Such a lovely thought, no?
Once you learn to toast dried chiles, you are only a hop, skip and a jump away from making enchilada sauce from scratch (bye, bye cans!). This is just a basic recipe, but the variations on this theme are endless.
Warning: on a heat scale from 1 (mild) to 6 (very hot), this salsa is a 4 or a 5.
What you need:
A large griddle or
comalA wooden spatula
A blender
A medium sized bowl
30 dried Chile de Árbol chilies (stems removed) See photo above.
2 dried New Mexico chiles
1 or 2 cloves garlic in their skins
2 medium sized juicy tomatoes
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon of vegetable cooking oil (optional)
Salt to taste
First of all, open the windows and turn on the fan over your stove!
Remove the stems from each dried chili. Slit open the large New Mexico chiles and remove the seeds if you want. (No need to do that with the smaller de arbol chiles). Take the griddle or comal and preheat over a medium heat for a minute or two. Add cooking oil (optional) and wait a minute more. Put the dried chilis, garlic and tomatoes on the hot comal and toast chiles for some minutes until you see their color change (see photo below). Do not burn! (Burning them only makes them bitter, in which case you must throw them out and start all over again.) Remove chilies from comal and put them inside the blender. Remove the tomatoes from the comal when they are toasted on all sides and their skins have burst.
Cut up tomatoes and place them with the chilis and garlic in the blender. Blend at full speed for some minutes until the chili salsa is smooth. If the salsa is too thick, add a bit of water and blend some more. Pour into bowl. At this point, you can pour the chile salsa through a wire mesh strainer to create a smooth bodied salsa, but you do not have too. Add salt to taste.
This salsa is perfect on almost anything: with carne asada, over chicken, fish. I think I will have them with my eggs tomorrow morning.


Heather said...

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your writing. It's so refreshing to see someone value where they came from instead of trying to be someone they're not. Perhaps if more people shared your love of food, there would be fewer eating disorders. Food can tell a story, comfort your soul and bring back wonderful memories. I love the way you describe it!
Love your blog!! :)

Anonymous said...

It was lovely meeting you on that most eventful train ride. That was one for the records, huh? I'm enjoying reading all your articles and can't wait to try some of your recipes. You are a clever and humorous writer and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you a little bit. Best regards. Did you ever make it to "your appointment" the day after that train ride?

La Traductora said...

Dear Senor B-
Muchisimas gracias for the compliment! It WAS a most enjoyable train ride. It is not often that I get a chance to converse with a young man as knowledgable and sensitive as you. It was a feast for the mind and a delight to the palate.
Wishing you a most brilliant legal career--but wouldn't you prefer to be a writer instead?
Te deseo toda la felicidad del mundo.

Anonymous said...

Senor B did not write that comment--I did! I'm the senorA you met on the train the day of the fire. We transferred to the "other mode of transporation" when the train was cancelled. Not only did I get to learn about cooking you also started me on my road back to crochet. Now there will be no confusing me with Senor B, huh? Felicidades, Anita

La Traductora said...

Querida Anita,
Te pido un millon de perdones!

It appears that lately I've had nothing but adventures on the train lately--unfortunately. I I've riding the train so much that I feel like a hobo! Anyway, I DID NOT make it to my appointment on time, though I did make it--frazzled, upset and with a tale to tell.

Thank you for commenting on my blog. I was wonderful meeting you--a very kind woman. I honestly wondered why I hadn't heard from you--now I know!
So happy to have heard from you!

Lynn said...

Ahhhh.... Just what I was looking for, a super dooper hot sauce! I've just recently been experimenting with more latin/Mexican cooking. Tried a Red Chili Sauce from Chef Arturo Vargas in Sacramento. Yours will take it a step further and my husband will be a happy man. :)

Cheers and happy holidays!

McCopygirl said...

My suegra makes the best Chile de arbol. The aroma fills the house and makes you choke but I love it. You can taste the garlic and it is wonderful.