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Chili Powder

I don't think it's a secret, based on what I've written in the past as well as my record so far on A Year From Scratch, that I really like making my own basic ingredients. I will admit, some of it is because I just have a fascination with making things that I grew up thinking of as having been grown in jars at the grocery store. But a lot of it is because they are incredibly useful to have around for emergencies. An emergency such as a mid-week dinner party after having spent the week in NYC. (Cue dramatic sting).

The savior of the week was the batch of chili powder I keep in the cabinet, made, predictably, From Scratch. We were making cheese enchiladas (From Scratch, of course. You'll get the full recipe later). As long-time readers know, this work was mostly Melanie's, who is The One Who Knows All About Tex Mex Cooking. She brought out the old family recipe for the enchilada sauce, which used ground chiles and cumin. She looked at that and said, "Hey, we can just use your chili powder," because chili powder is just ground chiles, ground cumin, and garlic powder. And so we did.

Top of a Chile Pepper

I've written about chili powder a few times before, but never here, and it's so useful to have around, simple to make, and insanely better tasting than anything I have ever encountered pre-made from a store. As far as effort-to-results ratios go, this one is well worth the trouble. To start with, find a selection of dried chile peppers of your choice. I tend to go for three or four different types at any time. I also tend to lean towards the larger chiles for two reasons: they are generally relatively mild, and they're much quicker to process. Pictured below are Guajillo, New Mexico, and Pasadillo chiles.

Selection of Chile Peppers

You can use a knife to prepare these, but I use kitchen shears because it seems a bit easier to me. I recommend using gloves for this, especially if you start cutting up more intensely spiced chiles or if you intend to make a lot of chile powder at a time.

Preparing to cut

First, cut off the stem and a section of the top. Empty out all of the seeds as well as the membrane. If it's not the color of the outside of the chile, you don't want it in your powder. Yes, you can get more heat from the stem, but the goal really isn't heat, it's flavor. If you want more heat, use hotter chiles, but still cut out the membrane and scoop out the seeds.

Off with its head

Next, cut the chile into relatively thin strips.

Snip Snip, chile's all sliced

After that, in a dry skillet, heat the strips in batches until they are warm to the touch. This will bring out the chiles' flavor a bit more. Remember, you're not trying to brown these, just to heat them through and release flavor. You will do the same with your cumin seeds. Then let everything dry, and process them in batches in your favorite blender. I would avoid filling the blender more then 1/3 full, and let everything settle for a few minutes before you take the top off the blender. You're going to notice some stinging in your sinuses anyways from all this chile handling, and there's no reason to exacerbate it with reckless behavior.

Once all the toasted cumin seeds and chile strips have been turned into a fine powder, mix thoroughly together and also with some good garlic powder. Put in a fancy jar, and you are set for any chili related emergencies. Also, you are ready to give gifts to any friends who are worthy of this, because you will notice at the end of the process that what you have in your fancy jar is more aromatic and deeply flavored than any chili powder you have ever held before. It is red gold, but you don't have to horde it. It's easy to make, and will bring intense flavor to your chili, chili sauces, various meat rubs, and anything else you might like to spice up a bit.

Chili Powder in a Jar




Chili Powder


6 oz. Dried Chiles, seeded and cut lengthwise into 1-inch wide strips

2.5 oz. Cumin Seeds, whole

.25 oz. Garlic Powder



Toast the chiles, in batches, in a dry pan

Toast the cumin, in batches, in a dry pan

Grind the chiles, in batches, in a blender

Grind the cumin seeds, in batches, in a blender

Combine all ingredients

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Reader Comments (2)

Can't wait to try this one!

July 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

The Avon St. Food Lion and the Mexican bakery near Beer Run are both fine places to get dried chiles.

July 29, 2010 | Registered CommenterBrian
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