Chili af

by Steve, March 15th, 2020

What even is chili? In the US it’s hamburger, bean and tomato soup, seasoned with cumin and a hint of “chili powder,” which is usually dried red chili mixed with cumin and dried onion and garlic. Hey, it’s pretty good! But is it chile?

In Latin America, a chile is a hot pepper, and it is prepared in countless ways, often as a sauce (salsa). My old friend S in Cuernavaca showed me how she made two kinds of sauce, one red and dry roasted, the other green and boiled.

This weekend I made chile (the dry roasted red kind) and mixed it with beans. I’ll call the result “chili beans” because it’s been chilly a.f. in Portland this weekend, and also, I’m a gringo. Here’s the basic recipe:


  • 5 oz New Mexico chili pods (any kind will do! it’s just everybody says New Mexico are best, yada yada yada)
  • 2 onions
  • 1 bulb garlic (or more! no such thing as too much)
  • 4 cans beans (yeah, I’ve been using canned beans, don’t judge, cook your own if you want, I used red and black this time)
  • cumin
  • oregano
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • Recommended for serving: fresh cilantro, chopped; sour cream/crema (a.k.a. “Mexican cream” which is closer to crème fraiche); cotija/queso seco cheese, crumbled; lime wedges; fresh corn tortillas


Red chili sauce / salsa roja

Preheat oven to 350F. Put a pot of water on to boil.

Snap or cut the stems off the chilis. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and dry roast a few minutes until they start to get fragrant. Alternate method: heat a cast iron skillet and dry roast them in that.

Put the roasted chilis into a large mixing bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover and let soak for an hour or more. Reserve the water; you’ll need it later for two steps.

Take half an onion and cut it into quarters. Peel half your garlic. Dry roast these in a hot cast iron skillet until they are browned.

Put all your chilis and the roasted garlic and onion in a blender with salt, cumin and oregano. (How much cumin and oregano? I never measure, sorry! But a good bit of cumin and a little less oregano? You’re gonna have to wing it.)

Add a few ladles of the chili soaking water and blend until smooth. Keep adding water until you get a nice liquid consistency. This can be super thick, or super runny, depending on how you plan to use it. It can also be smoother or chunkier, like if you want to make table salsa. Since I’m going to cook this with beans, I make it more on the liquid side.

Give it a taste and add more salt and cumin/oregano if you think it needs it.

Thassit! You’ve made salsa roja! Imagine the variations you can come up with.

Da Beans

Heat olive oil with cumin and salt (how much cumin? again, uh… a good bit?) in a cast iron skillet. Chop one onion (this should leave half an onion for garnish). Sautée/caramalize. Mince the rest of your garlic. Add to the sautée once the onions have started caramelizing.

Throw this all in the pot with your beans, then mix in your chili sauce. Add some of the chili soaking water to thin it out till it’s a good bit thinner than you want (it’ll thicken up). Bring it to a simmer and let it cook for, I dunno, half an hour to an hour?

Voila! Steve’s Chili A.F.


Serve with a dollop of sour cream or crema, chopped onions, some fresh cilantro and queso seco crumbles. Garnish with a lime wedge. Super tasty with some heated up corn tortillas. Enjoy!