Chili De Arbol Table Salsa

Phil Mahan

This is a true Mexican salsa and has not been Americanized. It is quite tasty and can be toned down to medium or mild by using less chili. A mild version would use 2 dried chiles. I have made this salsa for many years, and my daughter always drags a gallon of it back with her when she returns to the university after a visit home. This salsa is rated "Best Table Grade Salsa" by the Sam Houston State University "Animal House" (Freshman Dorm).

The de arbol chili is about 3 inches long (without stem) and is curved or bent in shape along its length. They are about 1/4" to 3/8" in diameter. They look kinda mean when you see them for the first time.

Taste: chili de arbol have an earthy, woody taste (very nice).

Fire Power: on the old 1 to 10 scale -- this chili would rate a 8.5 to 9.0. A fresh jalapeno rates around a 6.5 on this old scale.

Camp Tip -- you might want to consider wearing rubber gloves when you handle these Chiles while making your salsa. I don't go to this extreme, but I do not rub my eye lids or face while working with this chili, and I do wash my hands (before and after) going to the rest room! Just a tip!

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Chiles sliced and ready for grinding.
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The tomato added.
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Garlic salt and cilantro added.
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Ground medium well.
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Ready for eating.

For 1 pint of salsa (2 cups):

  • 4 dried chili de arbol. Remove stem and cut into 1/2" long pieces. Do not remove seeds.
  • 1/2 rounded tsp good grade garlic salt. Good grade means a good brand of garlic salt. Cheap garlic salt has to much salt in it. Buying cheap spices does not pay.
  • 1 15 oz can whole tomatoes. Buy the tomatoes canned in water, not tomato juice. I like Hunts brand.
  • Good shake of dried cilantro, about 1/4 rounded tsp. Over the last few years, the major spice brands have offered dried cilantro. This looks like dried parsley. You can use fresh minced cilantro also -- about 1 tsp.

The pictures show this salsa being made the old fashioned way with a three-legged mortar of volcanic stone called a molcajete with its matching pestle, the tejolote.

Old style way:

De-stem chili, and cut into 1/2" long pieces, place in the mortar and grind until chili is shredded fairly good. Add a tomato, and gently grind this into the chili pieces until you have a smooth paste, then place this paste in a mixing bowl.

Add the remaining tomatoes and the other spices to the mortar and grind medium well (don't make a mush). Place this in the mixing bowl, then add the tomato water. Mix all well, pour into covered container and age in the icebox for a few hours before serving. This salsa will darken slightly while aging.

Electric blender method:

Place chili pieces in blender
add tomato water and 1 tomato from can
add garlic salt
blend well, chopping up chili pieces
place the rest of tomatoes in blender
on low speed, blip (pulse) motor just enough to chop up tomatoes (do not make a mush)
pour in glass jar
add dried cilantro and mix well
store in ice box a few hours for flavors to blend. That's it!


The chili de arbol should be available at most Mexican food stores. If you can't find them, you can use the japone (Asian) chili or the cayenne dried chili in this recipe. If you are making this salsa the old way, make a slit across the whole tomatoes before grinding them. This keeps the tomato from squirting you when you grind it.

Copyright 2002 by Phil Mahan
Cooking With Da Cap'n

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