Thursday, November 17, 2011

Technique: Cooking with Dried Chilies

I'm going to let you in on a secret-
Rarely do I ever make the same thing the same way, and I almost NEVER cook soup with an idea of what kind of soup I want it to be.  It just keeps life more interesting, and helps me take advantage of whatever I might have in my fridge or pantry at the time without sending me to the store again.  Another little secret is that I go to the grocery store probably 3 or 4 times a week.  I adore grocery shopping.  The inspiration from the soup I made last night came from two things: the giant pig bone I had sitting in my fridge, and the nice little dried ancho chilies I picked up yesterday at Food Dog.  If you've never cooked with dried chilies, it's a damn shame.  Let's fix that right now.  Not only is it super cheap and easy, it adds depth of flavor like nobody's business and will totally impress your friends.

The good news is you can find these spicy little numbers almost anywhere.  Check either your produce department or the ethnic foods isle.  They can be purchased loose or in bags with several in them.  Ancho chile is my favorite because it has this smoky, sweet, almost raisin like flavor to it.  There are many types: pasilla, chile de arbol, cascabel, and more- you should definitely explore.  One of the best ways to cook with dried chilies is to make your very own chili powder.  How impressive does that sound?!  Guess what... it's easier than putting pants on.  Almost.  Basically, you just grab an assorted handful of  chiles with their seeds removed and toss them in a cast iron skillet with some cumin, paprika, what-have-you, and toast them up a few minutes so they are fragrant before tossing them in the blender.  My dad is a pro at this and used to toast them up in the oven.  This will make your house smell incredible.  Check out Alton Brown's easy and fail proof recipe for specifics.

Want something even easier to do with them?  Use them in a soup or sauce for flavor so authentic your burps will probably sound like mariachi music.  Cut the top off one or two peppers and slit that mother open.  Scrape out all the seeds (most will fall out on their own) and remove  the "veins" (lighter colored stringy fibers on the inside of the pepper).  Mine barely had any visible veins, so I didn't worry much with it.  Put them in a medium container and cover with hot, but not boiling, water.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.   Remove plastic wrap and drain if you're looking to make a paste, or if you're making a soup, you can leave the liquid in there.  Even if you want a paste, save that drained liquid to cook beans, rice, or whatever in it.  Yum!  If you drained them, use a blender (I like my magic bullet for this) to puree them.  If you're making a soup like I did, you want this yummy liquid to stay where it is.  Put peppers and liquid in a blender and puree, or use an immersion blender in that same container to make it super easy.  I ran my puree through a strainer before I put it in my soup.  Totally optional.  After the chiles were in the water with the pork bone I boiled the heck out of, it was clear from my pantry that tortilla soup was in order.  Here's what I did:

1.  Cover bone with water and boil the crap out of it for several hours.
2.  Remove bone and let it cool.  Pick meat off of it and toss it back in the pot with the water.
3.  Rehydrate one dried chile (ancho is what I used) and puree it in its soaking water.  Strain and add to pot.
4.  Chop one onion roughly.  You guessed it, into the pot.
5.  There's corn kernels in the freezer.  Shake about a cup into the pot.
6.  Dump one can of beans into the pot (I used the white ones because I am burnt out on black beans).
7.  Dump can of fire roasted tomatoes in pot.  Add two Tbsp garlic powder, and one of oregano to pot.
8.  Add two chopped up links of chorizo style meatless sausages.
9.  Add 1/3 cup jarred enchilada sauce.
10.  Add the almost used up whole grain tortilla chips in the back of the cabinet after crushing them.

Let this simmer for at least an hour, stirring frequently and skimming fat off the top.  When almost ready to serve, heat 1/3 cup vegetable oil in cast iron skillet until a bead of water flicked into it makes it hiss and dance like nuts.  Fry one tortilla per lucky person eating this, one at a time.  About thirty seconds on each side is good before removing to a plate lined with a paper towel.  Break up into chips for garnish and add to individual bowls of finished soup.  Top with avocado if you have it.  I had mango salsa and cilantro, so there you go.
Tortilla soup for the soul.

This is the first time I have ever made tortilla soup, and it was my favorite.  I will definitely be adding this to my favorite dishes I keep in circulation.
Leaving for MasterChef casting calls in the morning!  I couldn't be more excited, and I can't even express how grateful I am for all the encouragement I've gotten from you guys, family and friends.  Thanks for routing for me!

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JenMarie said...

Gonna have to try this.

Good luck tomorrow!!! - from one redhead to another.

Blink said...


Blink said...

We are rooting for you as well!

Reeni said...

Your soup looks absolutely delicious! I love cooking with dried chiles. Hope things went good at Masterchef!

Melody Ann said...

Thanks, everyone! It was so much fun, and I can't wait to do it again someday... unless they call! ;)