|Chili, Chilly or Chili Powder– To be, or not to be, or maybe
|In the last two weeks, I discussed the importance and use of various salt and peppers.
Living in Arizona and being strongly influenced by Southwestern cuisine, you will always
find chili powder in my pantry or “seasoning kit.” The name can be a misnomer because
there are many different types of chilies and chili powders. For example, what most
people refer to as chili powder is actually a blend of chilies and other seasonings, where
as “chipotle powder” is literally a dried chili in powder form (a red jalapeño, smoked, dried
and ground). Then you have light and dark chili powder. To add to the confusion, there
is also a sweet chili powder. These chili powders vary greatly in taste, piquant (heat),
texture and color. Adding more to the confusion, “chili” can refer to a pepper, a blend of
spices or the name of a dish. If someone says, “Here, have some chili,” they could
conceivably hand you a plant, powder, or a bowl of flavored beef (sometimes with beans
One thing to remember is that each type of chili produces a different and unique flavor.
Most commercial chili powders use the mild Ancho chili as its foundation. The Ancho
flavor in the chili powder is typically blended with cumin, garlic and Mexican oregano,
depending on the manufacturer. Light chili powders, typically have less Ancho and might
use a mild paprika as filler, yielding a milder flavor than its darker brother. Hot chili
powders typically add cayenne to kick up the heat. Some manufacturers add salt, but
those who follow these articles know I like to control the salt in my dishes, independent of
other ingredients (and late in the cooking process after flavors have developed).
So which chili powders do you use, and for what?
Answer: It depends. It depends on what type of flavor you are trying to develop in the
Most “Texas-style” chili starts with your basic dark chili powder, but again that depends
on who is making it. I use it when making beef or chicken stuffing for my tacos. Rarely,
however, do I use chili powder by itself when cooking. For example, when making beef
taco meat, I add fresh oinions and garlic (caramelized), paprika (for a dark rich color),
chipotle powder for a smoky flavor, oregano, fresh cracked black pepper and celery salt.
Don’t ask me for specific quantities, because I measure according to taste.
If you are looking for something to do, make your own chili powder using the following
recipe. Mexican markets are a great place to look for the ingredients you will need.
Because of the fast turnover of product in the store, the chili peppers tend to be fresher
(and less expensive).
4 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and diced
2 cascabel chiles, stemmed, seeded and diced
3 dried arbol chiles, stemmed, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
2½ tablespoons granulated garlic
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano (or desert sage)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Place all of the chilies and the cumin into a medium nonstick saute pan or cast iron skillet
over medium-high heat. Toast the cumin and peppers, continuously moving the pan to
ensure even toasting. When you begin to smell the cumin toasting (4 to 5 minutes), pour
the chilies and cumin into a cool pan to stop them cooking and keep them from burning.
Once the chili and cumin are cool, place all the ingredients in a blender or spice grinder
and process until a fine powder is formed. Allow the powder to settle a couple minutes
before removing the lid of the carafe. You will be glad you did, because you won’t cough
from the airborne spices. As is with all spices, store in an airtight container for up to 6
months, 12 if refrigerated.
If you want to add more heat to your chili powder, try adding more arbol pepper or
Here are some ways I use my chili powder:
• An ingredient in my taco mixes
• Rim the glass for a cold beer
• Sprinkle it on popcorn
• Handy in some marinades
• Great on grilled pineapple
Until next week, be blessed, stay well and eat healthy.
David Hall, CGC
Thyme for a Chef
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