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Monday, January 24, 2011

Make It Yourself: Chili Powder

We use a lot of chili powder. We love Mexican and Indian food, so between guacamole, beans-and-rice, and assorted curries, it seems we're always emptying a jar. Fortunately, we've learned how to make our own, which not only costs a lot less than the measly supermarket jars of McCormick's but results in a much toastier, richer-tasting spice.

Most supermarkets now carry packages of dried whole peppers in the produce section. For chili powder, ancho, New Mexico, or Anaheim peppers work especially well. Ancho peppers are dark and wrinkly;
while New Mexico and Anaheim peppers are smoother:

Anaheims are the mildest of the three, but all three (as well as the hotter guajillo pepper) can be mixed and matched to make good chili powder. Dried peppers are inexpensive and last virtually indefinitely, so it's easy to experiment with different varieties until you find a blend you like. (Do not use small dried red peppers you typically see in Asian markets, unless you want to end up with cayenne powder, which is much too hot to substitute for chili powder.)

Once you've got your dried peppers, heat your oven to 325 degrees and spread the peppers out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast them for ten minutes, or until they turn dark red and crispy, but be careful not to burn them. A little scorching doesn't hurt, but if you let them go too long, they'll be too far-gone to work in chili powder. Ten minutes is usually plenty of time to get the results you want. (The toasting peppers give off spicy fumes, so you may want to do this with an open window in your kitchen. At the very least, don't make the mistake we once made and roast hot chilies while someone else is standing on a ladder; the rising pepper fumes will make them come down in a hurry!)

Let the peppers cool, then remove their stems and shake out their seeds. Then, using a coffee grinder or a mini food processor designed for small jobs, start grinding them. Tear the peppers into small pieces, and grind them until they turn to powder.

Once the peppers are ground, you can mix them with other spices for a "rounder" chili powder. We like oregano and ground cumin—say, a teaspoon of each mixed with the equivalent of a package of chilies. For extra flavor, you can toast cumin seeds in a dry pan for a few minutes, then run them through the grinder before you mix them with the chilies. This will give you a good-size jar of chili powder.

If you're like us, you'll come to love the smell of roasting chilies and look forward to making your own spice.

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