Dried chiles add depth and nuance

Ancho chile soup

Many of us keep whole spices in our pantry because we prefer the vibrant flavor of freshly ground spices like peppercorns or cumin seed over the sometimes flat flavors of the pre-ground varieties. Yet when the recipe calls for chile powder, we still reach for the pre-ground version because we are overwhelmed by the dozens of varieties of dried chiles available to us. Cookbook author and food writer Ivy Manning helps us pick the right pepper with a primer on using dried chiles.

Manning focuses on seven chiles readily available in her local area of Portland, Oregon, but many of these peppers are available in supermarkets and specialty shops worldwide. Mail order spice houses are another source for dried chiles. Starting with the popular ancho chile (the most frequently found chile in pre-ground versions), Manning continues through lesser-known varieties such as guajuillo and puya (aka pulla) chiles.

In addition to describing the flavors and heat levels of the chiles, Manning offers advice on how to cook with them. She cautions that you should always wear gloves when handling dried chiles to avoid irritating your skin, and instructs cooks to dry roast the chiles in a small skillet. Toasting chiles "is not only worth the effort for the complex flavor it lends sauces, but it also gives off a delicious aroma."

Do you cook with whole dried chiles? If so, which is your favorite and how do you use it?

Photo of Ancho chile soup with avocado crema and chile pasilla from Saveur Magazine


  • Cubangirl  on  8/13/2014 at 4:32 PM

    Thanks Darcie. The referenced article was great. I don't like a lot of heat, but do like the nuances chiles provide.

  • Rinshin  on  8/13/2014 at 7:08 PM

    I use whole dry chiles for making different salsas per Rick Bayless books. One time I made 4 different salsas using his book. Freezes well. Sometimes, I make Ranchera sauce when tomatoes are also in season with chile.

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