Chili Powder, the Taste of Summer All Year Long

I can’t grow enough peppers.  I make pickled pepperoncini and pimentos, hot sauce, dried strands of hot chilis.  Then of course there are all the ones that get cooked fresh, and some are roasted and frozen in little jars for pizzas and such.  Then there is the chili powder.

I like my chili powder.  It is delicious and as far as I know, unavailable in markets.  Chili powder of commerce in the United States is a spice mix, not just straight chili powder.  Even if straight chili powder was available, it loses it’s potency after grinding, which is why paprika in a can is often very low on flavor.  By the way, chili powder and paprika are more or less the same thing, but with different peppers and different pretreatments like roasting or smoking or neither.

Since Chili powder is just ground dried red peppers, it is extremely versatile.  I use it in just about any cuisine and almost every day.  It goes great with tomatoes and can be used here and there in red curries, in kimchee, stirfries, chili, omelets, in guacamole or just sprinkled on as a finish.  The dish that probably highlights dried chilis the most is Posole, an out of this world soup of pork with hominy and a rich chili broth.

I’ve used a few different peppers over the years, but mostly I use Anaheim now.  It makes a very rich flavored chili powder and I use the fresh green and ripe peppers in cooking too.  It is the chili that is used green for Chili rellenos.  Anaheimgrows well here and is productive, which is pretty good recommendation alone.  I don’t think you could go wrong experimenting with drying and grinding different kinds of ripe peppers though.

I dry the peppers, but in order to dry whole, they have to be dried pretty quickly or they will mold.  If the weather is cool or you just don’t have a good heat source, it is best to cut the peppers open and into strips so that they don’t mold.  I usually use the front of my car to dry stuff as long as the sun is out.  The front of a car is an extremely effective solar dehydrator and can even get hot enough to cook stuff if you’re not careful.  I usually crack the windows slightly for air flow.

I store the peppers in jars until needed and make my chili powder fresh about every two or three weeks.  If stored too long it begins to loose it’s potency, so I don’t like to keep it much over four weeks.  Yeah, I know I’m spoiled, but that’s one of the reasons I started growing food is to get the best quality.  By hunting and gathering and growing I can eat stuff that most people can’t afford, including everyone in my economic class that doesn’t have a strong food/subsistence orientation. If I run out, I’ll sometimes buy dried whole “California” chilis and use them.  Almost every market in California has them.

I usually roast or toast the peppers lightly before grinding.  It changes the flavor and dries the peppers thoroughly so that they are brittle enough to grind easily.  You can grind them without roasting, but they need to be pretty dry.  Peppers contain a lot of sugar, which makes them hygroscopic, meaning they have an affinity for water, which they will absorb out of the air.  For that reason, and to keep flavor in, chili powder should be stored in a sealed container.  If not, it will turn into one big clot.

I grind the powder in an old coffee grinder.  I pick the grinders up at thrift stores and yard sales and try to keep several on hand for different types of spices and coffee and such.  It’s no fun to clean them out well enough to grind some coffee after grinding other spices, or cleaning out one type of spice to grind another type.  One of mine is dedicated to chili powder, one to coffee, one to “sweet” spices like cloves and cinnamon, one to non-edible stuff.

The same sugars that make chili powder absorb moisture also make it prone to sticking and burning.  If frying, add the chili powder right at the end or when wet ingredients are added.  I’d say just make some and start trying it in dishes.  Oh, and ripe peppers are also full of antioxidants.  Dried chilis are a great way to preserve a healthy bit of summer with truly gourmet potential.

Posted on July 29, 2016 .