Red Hot Recipe for Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2015

Some people say New York has no good Mexican food. Those people are wrong. 

But it can't compare to LA, where the Mexican food is so rich and varied I dread the thought of returning back east. The bar is high here: great tacos are everywhere. The only reason to make your own salsa is to avoid the traffic; getting to East LA can be a challenge.  And so, even here I sometimes build my own tacos. 

I get good tortillas, add beans and melt some cheese.  I make a quick salsa by chopping fresh tomatoes, chiles and onions, then squeezing in a bit of lime. Then I add this extremely easy no-frills cooked salsa which I try to keep on hand. Guajillos aren't very hot, but they have a wonderfully fruit flavor with great depth. One warning: this recipe isn't worth your time unless you can find fantastic chiles that have been dried in the not-so-distant past. 

Easy Guajillo Salsa

12 dried guajillo chiles

1 large can whole peeled tomatoes

1/2 onion, peeled but not chopped

3 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon vinegar – white or apple cider



Wipe your chiles (they tend to be dusty). Remove stems, seeds and veins.

Gently toast them in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until the aroma fills the kitchen. Be careful not to let them get too brown. 

Throw the chiles, tomatoes, whole onion and garlic into a saucepan over high heat, breaking up the tomatoes on the side of the pan. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little water. When it begins to bubble rapidly, turn the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add salt, sugar and vinegar, and cook for another minute.

Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth. Cool and refrigerate.  

If I'm not adding a layer of fresh salsa, I like this seasoned with finely chopped cilantro and fresh lime juice. You will undoubtedly have ideas of your own. 

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  • ZinDc says:

    I make salsa roja with similar ingredients (I add a tomatillo and some cumin), but with slightly different technique. I soak the toasted chiles in hot water, and roast the vegetables and garlic (I usually use fresh tomato) in a hot oven until slightly browned. I puree the roasted vegetables, soaked chiles, vinegar, cumin, lime juice, cilantro and salt and add some of the chiles’ soaking liquid. Then I simmer for about twenty minutes to thicken the salsa and blend the flavors well. I think the step of roasting the vegetables gives it added depth of flavor. Oh, and sometimes I make it out of a mixture of guajillo and ancho chiles.

  • Oh how I miss Mexican food in the L.A. area. Being geographically challenged, I have to try to recreate cravings. Your post piqued my interest because I’ve never used guajillo chiles in salsa. The recipe I use is very similar that you list here, except I slightly char jalapeno peppers, thick sliced onion and roma tomatoes under the broiler. Rice wine vinegar and a small amount of mint leaves are the only other changes, then everything else goes in the food processor.
    Thank you for inspiring a change and I can’t wait to order in some of these chiles to give it a try!

  • Lynn McBride says:

    Wonderful. And as it happens, on my blog at Southern Fried French, I wrote a review this week of Minero, Sean Brock’s new Mexican joint, where he imports special varieties of corn to make his own masa for tortillas. AND I featured your recipe for collard greens on the same post, thank you very much–they were delicious!
    Lynn at