Chipotle-Cascabel Salsa with Roasted Tomatoes and Tomatillos

This is salsa at its complex best: smoky fire from those beloved little chipotles (smoke-dried jalapeqos), nutty intricacy from dried cascabels, sweetness from roasted tomatoes and garlic, zestiness from tomatillos. There are so many wonderful things going on here, taste-wise, that you'll feel compelled to try it again and again. The dried chipotles are easier to find than the dried cascabel chiles, when none of the latter is available, make a very good salsa with all chipotles. When only canned chipotles (not dried) are available (I'm referring here to the widely available, very popular ones packed in the vinegary tomato sauce called adobo-it'll say that on the can), you can substitute those already-reconstituted canned chiles for one or both of the dried chiles, skip the toasting and soaking in Step 1.

Makes 2 cups


3 each dried chipotle chiles (use the dark red chipotles colorados - often sold as moritas in the U.S., rather than the tan chipotles mecos)
3 each dried round cascabel chiles
1/2 pound (6 to 7 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/2 pound (3 medium) ripe tomatoes (preferably plum tomatoes)
6 each garlic cloves, peeled
1 large (1/2 pound) white onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup water (approximate)
generous teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)


Heat the broiler and set a heavy skillet over medium heat. Break the stems off the chiles, scoop them into the heating pan and stir, pressing them down regularly, until you notice that the chiles have darkened a little in spots and they fill the kitchen with their spicy aroma - the whole toasting process will take 2 to 3 minutes. 

Scoop the chiles into a bowl, pour very hot tap water on them and lay a plate over them to keep them submerged.

On a broiler pan or heavy baking sheet (lined with heavy duty foil if you want juice collection and clean up to go quickly), spread out the whole tomatillos and tomatoes and set under the broiler. Let roast for 5 or 6 minutes until softened (you're cooking them through here) and blackened in splotches on one side (the tomatillos will have begun to turn olive in color with dark spots), then use a pair of tongs to turn them over. 

Set under the broiler for another 5 or 6 minutes until completely softened and equally darkened on the other side. Remove to cool.

Turn the oven down to 425 degrees. On a similar pan or baking sheet, spread out the garlic and onion (break the onion into rings, so that it'll roast evenly). Set in the oven and roast, stirring well every couple of minutes, until beautifully roasted, you want the garlic soft and the onion richly browned - there may be a couple of charred ends here and there, but don't let it all burn or your salsa will be bitter. 

Total roasting time will be about 15 minutes. (For an even smokier flavor, you can grill-roast the onions and garlic in a perforated grilling pan over a moderately low charcoal fire.)

Scrape the onion and garlic into a food processor, cover and pulse until they are finely chopped (but not a pasty smooth purie). Scoop into a large bowl. Drain the rehydrated chiles (they should have soaked about 20 minutes by now - the right amount of time to soften them without soaking away too much of their flavor). 

For a less rustic salsa (or if you're canning the salsa), peel the skins off the cooled tomatoes and cut out the "cores" where the stems were attached (work over the baking sheet to capture all the juices). Without washing the processor, scoop in the chiles, then add the tomatillos (don't peel or core them) and tomatoes with all their accumulated juices. 

Pulse a few times, then let the machine run until everything is quite finely puried (this takes a minute or so, dried chile skins are tougher than fresh chile skins). Scrape into the bowl with the onion/garlic, then stir in the fresh thyme and enough water to give you an easily spoonable consistency. 

(For what it's worth, this salsa is usually made somewhat thin and very spicy in Mexico-the perfect little drizzle over eggs or tacos.)

Taste, then season with salt and optional sugar. Remember: like all condiments, this salsa should be highly seasoned-a little salty and with enough sugar to balance the bitiness of the chiles and tanginess of the tomatillos. If you're planning to use your salsa right away, simply pour it into a bowl and it's ready, or, refrigerate it and use within 5 days.