Lisa’s Salsa Arbol

If you look, you can find amazing recipes in the most unexpected places. I wrote about how we came to make Manny’s Uncanny Salsa, and here is another one. We were visiting our new chiropractor in Oxnard this week, and chatting with the woman who keeps the office together, Lisa. Somehow, the conversation got around to salsa, (as it often does around here) and she gave us this recipe for an authentic roasted tomatillo and chile salsa she makes. There are only four ingredients, and the preparation is simple. We are going to pan-roast the tomatillos this time instead of broiling, as it caramelizes them and produces a different flavor. She uses the comal, a smooth flat griddle used to cook tortillas, sear meat, toast spices and here, to roast tomatillos. We’ll use a heavy frying pan lined with aluminum foil. It makes clean up a snap.

Arbol chiles are long, thin, dried red chiles you can find at any good supermarket or Latino market. They are very common and a mainstay of Mexican cooking. Be sure to wear gloves when you handle them. They are pretty hot, and when I asked Lisa how many she used she showed me a double handful. I blanched and remarked that a lot of chiles. She smiled and replied her husband likes it hot. I have reduced the amount here and while she doesn’t remove the seeds, I take out most of them. As always you can vary the number of chiles to regulate the heat, but the proportions here are just about right. Hot but not thermonuclear. I might actually add a few more the next time I make it, ’cause Hot Eddie likes it hot, too.

This salsa is more of a condiment than a dipping sauce for chips. There is nothing to get in the way of the tangy taste of the tomatillos, almost a a little vinegary, and the flavor of the chiles. It is perfect for tacos, burritos, tortas, or tostadas to give a little hit of acid and heat. Of course you are free to dip if you like.




Lisa’s Salsa Arbol

Prep time 30 minutes. Makes about 1 ½ cups

½ pound medium tomatillos

8-10 dried Arbol chiles

2-3 cloves garlic



Place a heavy frying pan over medium-low heat. Toast the chiles for 5-10 seconds on each side being careful not to burn them.



Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and peel the garlic. Rinse the tomatillos under cool water to remove the sticky film. Cut the tomatillos in half through the stems. Line the pan with aluminum foil and put the tomatillos skin side down over medium high heat.




Roast for 15-20 minutes, turning a few times until they are charred, and soft. They will turn olive green and start to release their juices. It’s okay if they burn a little, it adds to the smoky flavor of the salsa.



While the tomatillos are roasting, remove the stems from the chiles. Slit along one side with a sharp paring knife and take out most of the seeds. I like to leave a few in as they add flavor and heat. Leave them all if you want a hotter salsa, but definitely take off the stems.




When the tomatillos are done, put them into the blender with the chiles, peeled garlic, a big pinch of salt, and ¼ cup warm water.



Blend to a smooth uniform consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if you like.



There you go. Let cool cover and refrigerate.



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