Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Toasted Pasilla Chile Soup Base

In the past few years smokey chipotle peppers have gained a lot of popularity in the US. It is not hard to find South West, Mexican and "fusion" recipes that call for chipotle peppers. I think it is a matter of time before pasilla chiles gain the same popularity north of the border. Like many other Mexican chiles, pasillas are sold dry. Some times pasillas are mistaken for ancho dry chiles. You can easily recognize pasillas because they won't be as long and skinny as other dry varieties, and they will be very dark, almost black. They are also very wrinkly.

Dry pasillas may require a little bit more preparation before they can be added to your recipes, but don't let that intimidate you. The extra steps are well worth it. "Pasilla" is a derivative of the Spanish word "pasa" or raisin. When properly prepared, pasillas add a robust flavor to your dishes and a hint of fruitiness reminiscent of raisins or sun dried tomatoes. I like frying pasillas in a pan first, since it produces an earthy hint of dark chocolate and a toasty flavor that is very different from the smokey chipotle. Depending on the pasilla variety, they also pack a lot of heat, so a little goes a long way. You'll need the following ingredients:

  • One dry pasilla chile (or two, if they are small)
  • One clove of garlic, peeled and mashed
  • A quarter of a small onion, chopped
  • One tablespoon of olive oil
  • One large tomato, or two smaller Roma tomatoes
  • Salt, to taste
  • A pinch of sugar
  • One bay leaf

Tear the dry pasilla chiles in half, discard the seeds. Use a small paring knife to remove the stem and the veins. Tear the chiles in smaller pieces. Wash your hands carefully before proceeding to the next step.

You need to toast your chiles in order to "wake up" the flavor. This takes a bit of skill and could mean the difference between a toasty flavorful soup base and bitterness and indigestion. First, heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan. Make sure the oil is very hot but don't let it smoke. Fry the dry chiles for a couple seconds. Using thongs turn the chiles and fry them on the other side, making sure they don't burn. Work in a well ventilated kitchen. Depending on how spicy the chiles are they'll produce a sweet mellow scent or smoke that can feel quite toxic! Don't breath the fumes directly, they can irritate your eyes and throat.

Put the toasted chiles in a bowl and set aside. Saute the onion and the garlic in the same pan where you toasted the chiles but don't let them brown. Turn the heat down and add a cup of warm water to deglaze the pan. Pour the warm water, the onion and the garlic in the same bowl with the toasted chiles and the bay leaf and let them soften for a whole hour. Once the chiles are soaked they will be very soft and the water will be a nice amber color.

Remove the bay leaf and discard. Blend the chile mixture with the peeled, seeded tomatoes until smooth. Add salt to taste and a pinch of sugar to cut the acidity. Strain in a fine mesh sieve. You can store your soup base in an air tight container for several days. Use this base as a spicy vegan "bullion" in soups like pozole, rice, sopa seca or any other pasta dish, as well as chili. You can even add a few drops over tostadas, potato salad, or home made salad dressing.

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