Tomatillo Salsa with Fired Serrano Chilies

Wood-Fired Tomatillo Salsa | Culinary Compost RecipesYet another variation on my fresh, traditional salsa verde. In this recipe, the serrano chilies are fire-roasted until charred. This method adds a subtle, complex flavor that is distinctively different. You may choose to fire the peppers on a grill, gas burner or with a propane torch.  Any of these methods work great.  There’s no need to peel them afterward — just stem them and pulse in your food processor until the desired consistency is achieved.  Note that a pinch of ground toasted whole cumin seed is also added.  The result?  Perfection.

In many traditional Mexican salsa recipes the tomatillos are simmered and then blended. Culturally, each has its place — and people seem to be vehemently polarized on their opinion of which they like better.

I love this version; it is very refreshing on a hot summer day.


12-16 fresh tomatillos, husked, washed and cored
6 large, fresh serrano chili peppers
1 medium onion, peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed (try roasting it, as an option)
1/2 cup washed and trimmed cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. ground cumin – toasted from seed
2 tsp. salt, to taste


Peel the tomatillos and ensure they are completely washed clean in cold water. Core and quarter them and place in a food processor. Blacken and stem the serranos. Add to the processor with the onion, mashed garlic cloves and cilantro. Pulse until finely-chopped, but not smooth. Add the salt and toasted ground cumin. Mix well and let stand for 1/2 hour before serving.

Serves 6-8
Heat Level: 7

Salsa Verde |Culinary Compost Recipes

Use a good-quality food processor when preparing salsa. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and produce more consistent results. Choose one with a large-capacity work bowl, strong motor and a pulse switch. Shown is a premium Breville® Sous Chef 12-cup food processor. The pulse feature allows you to quickly process ingredients with just a few pushes of the button. Note the consistency of the cut. The unit costs a lot more than your average processor, but you get what you pay for.

Guajillo Salsa

Guajillo Salsa Recipe | Culinary Compost

This is a wonderful salsa made from dried Guajillo chili peppers and ripe plum tomatoes. If the Guajillos are too spicy, you can cut the heat by adding more tomatoes.



8-10 dried Guajillo peppers
2 plum tomatoes, seeded
2 large cloves of garlic
Pinch of dry ground coriander
Pinch of dry Mexican oregano
1 tsp. salt, to taste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced



Place the dry Guajillo pods in a large cast-iron skillet and heat over medium until lightly toasted and aromatic – about 5 minutes. Press them down and turn once so they don’t scorch. Remove and trim stems. Remove the seeds from the pods and place in a blender with enough water to cover the peppers. Let stand for at least a half hour.

Pour out the water from the blender and reserve. Measure 1 cup of the water and place back into the blender. Add the peeled garlic cloves, coriander, salt, Mexican oregano and cilantro. Pulse until smooth.

Add the seeded tomato and pulse again until smooth.

Let stand 20 minutes before serving. Makes about 2.5 cups.

Green Chili Cornbread

My wife and I stumbled on a product by Desert Gardens when we were visiting relatives in Arizona. For years, it was my favorite cornbread – moist, slightly-sweet with a fair amount of zip. We would buy six to ten packages (at $6.50 each) and squirrel them away for future use. Unfortunately our local distributor here in Wisconsin stopped carrying it.

Out of frustration….OK, desperation, I reverse-engineered the recipe and tweaked it until I thought it was spot-on to the original product. Chilis vary in heat, so you’ll want to ensure they are palatable for your taste before combining them in this recipe. Enjoy!


1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 flame-roasted poblano or New Mexican green chili, finely diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt


Preheat your oven to 375-degrees F. Grease a ten-inch cast-iron skillet with vegetable oil or Crisco shortening. Preheat the skillet in the oven while you prepare the batter and the chili pepper.

Wash the poblano or NM green chili pepper and char the tough outer skin until blistered, using a portable propane torch. You’ll need to be careful, ensuring that you have a flameproof bowl or secondary skillet so you don’t burn your kitchen countertop. When completely charred, place the chili pepper in a sealed brown paper lunch bag for about ten minutes. Wash the skin off the chili using cold water. Core, seed, dice and set aside.

While the chili pepper is cooling, melt the butter in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl at 45 seconds. In the same bowl, add the eggs and quickly beat until blended. Combine with the buttermilk and beat until smooth. Next, in a separate large mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients including the baking soda, cornmeal, flour and salt. Add the diced chili pepper and mix well. Gently fold in the wet batter ingredients until incorporated, (it’s OK to have a few lumps).

Remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour the batter into the skillet. BE CAREFUL – it may splatter. I’ll argue the step of pre-heating your cornbread skillet with anyone – it is essential to creating an authentic, crispy crust.

Level the batter and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until lightly browned. A toothpick should pull out clean when inserted into the center of the cornbread. Remove and serve immediately.

Serve with butter.

Serves 4-6.

NOTE: If using Lodge® muffin pans, remove from the oven after 24-25 minutes. Cornbread muffins will cook faster due to less volume.
The amount of batter in this recipe will yield 18 muffins.

Mesquite-Grilled Steak Chili with Chorizo and Poblano

This is a dark, smokey, semi-hot chili based on two of my other grilled steak chili recipes.  The main difference here is it also features chorizo sausage. If you cannot find the bulk chorizo, you can substitute ground pork and add a bit more cayenne pepper. The marinade is similar to my recipe for fajitas. It’s a lot of work but a guaranteed success for hungry guests.

In Arizona, mesquite wood is plentiful. It grows as a small scrub-tree and can be found everywhere. No such luck here in Wisconsin. I get my wood chips at a hardware store in three pound bags. The wood smoke is essential to the flavor of this dish.


For the Steak Marinade~

2 lbs. chuck or sirloin steak, slightly marbled
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
1 tbs. ancho chili powder
1 tbs. ground coriander seed
1 tbs. liquid smoke
2 oz. tequila
fresh-ground black pepper to taste

For the Chili Pot~

1 lb. ground bulk chorizo or pork
2 large spanish onions, peeled and halved
2 large poblano peppers
1 whole bulb garlic, cloves peeled and minced
1 14.5 oz. can black beans
1 14.5 oz. can pinto beans
1 cup strong black coffee
24 oz. beef broth or stock
1 32 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
4 tbs. tomatillo or lime juice
2 tbs. ancho chili powder
3.5 tbs. pure mild chimayo chili powder
1 tsp. salt, to taste
1 tbs. ground chipotle powder
3 tbs. ground cayenne powder, to taste
2 tbs. fresh ground cumin, from toasted seed
1 tbs. ground mexican oregano

Mesquite wood chips for grilling
Paper lunch bag


Prepare the marinade and steak 24 hours in advance. Tenderize the steak and place in a large ziplock freezer bag. Mix the lime juice, olive oil, crushed garlic, coriander, ancho powder, liquid smoke, tequila and black pepper in a bowl until combined and pour over steak. Seal tight and place in fridge, rotating at least twice. Ensure that the steak is evenly covered  with the marinade. The lime juice will break down the marbling and make it very tender.

Heat a large 5-quart cast-iron dutch oven over medium heat and brown the pork until no longer pink. Drain off the fat. Add the coffee, tomatoes and beef stock. Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher and bring to a low simmer.

Prepare your grill with enough charcoal for a medium-hot fire. When the coals are white-hot, level them, add the mesquite wood and place the onion (lightly brushed with olive oil) over direct heat on the grilling grate until they char slightly. Keep rotating them and then add the poblanos. Ensure you get a nice char on all sides of the peppers. The onion will eventually break apart, so take care not to let the pieces slip through the grilling grate onto the fire. Remove the onion and poblanos and set aside. Place the poblanos in a sealed paper lunch bag so the tough skins sweat off.

Add the steak to the grill and char both sides lightly with the cover on for smoking. You’ll want it medium-rare in the middle. Remove and reserve on a cutting board for at least ten minutes.

Back to the chili pot –  Rinse off the charred poblano skins under cold water. Seed and dice the pepppers. Dice the onion and add both to the pot. Add the dry spices. Cut the steak into 1/2″ chunks and remove the excess fat. Add to the pot with any remaining juices. Add the tomatillo or lime juice. Saute the garlic over low heat in a little olive oil and add to the pot.

Simmer for at least 3 hours to reduce, stirring occasionally. At the last half-hour, drain the beans and add to the pot.

Makes 4.75 quarts.

Green Dragon Hot Chili Dipping Sauce

I reverse-engineered this simple dipping sauce recipe from a local Chinese restaurant, with a little help from my waiter. I was shocked how hot it was the first time I tried it. The pungency of the green Thai chili is punctuated by a heady, acrid bite that lingers on your tongue long afterward. Try with spring rolls or as a side to your favorite Asian entree.


10 fresh small hot Thai green chilis
1 large chunk of fresh ginger, peeled – about 1″
2 large cloves raw garlic, peeled
Splash of rice wine vinegar


Wash and trim the stems off of the Thai chilis. Place the chilis and the remaining ingredients in a food processor and puree. Let stand ten minutes and serve.

Serves 2-4

Asian Scallion Salad

Asian Scallion Salad | Culinary CompostThis is a refreshing salad loosely based on the Korean Pa Muchim. It has a fair amount of kick due to the crushed chili. Kochukaru is the traditional Korean dried chili used for this dish. It is the same chili that makes kimchi so spicy.
You can substitute any crushed hot red chili for this recipe with great results.


3-4 medium scallions, washed and roots trimmed
2 tbs. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. white sugar
2 tbs. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger root
2 tbs. fine-chopped cilantro leaf
1/2 tsp. Kochukaru red pepper flakes (or any hot chili flakes)
1 pinch coarse/kosher salt
1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional)


Cut scallions in thirds, then slice lengthwise into fine strips and submerge in ice water until curled – 30 minutes to one hour.

Whisk the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Drain the scallion well and place in a serving bowl with the dressing. Stir lightly to coat. Serve immediately either as a garnish, side dish or starter course to your favorite Asian dish.

Serves 2-4

Chili Relleños

Roasting poblano peppers with a propane torch | Culinary Compost

Roasting poblano peppers with a propane torch. The tough outer skin is unpalatable and should be removed before baking.

Stuffed chilis can take on many forms. The small ones known as “poppers” are very popular as an appetizer. Preparing them can be a bit time-consuming, but is well worth the extra effort. They taste nothing like the frozen ones you buy in a supermarket.

Rellenos historically are stuffed and baked Poblano peppers. The concept here is the same, only bite-sized and deep-fried. (Atkins participants need not apply.) Years ago, I had the opportunity to sample some called “Banditos” at a streetcorner ice-cream shop in downtown Denver. They were the hottest damn jalapeños I have ever had. They served them floured in a french-fry basket with sour cream on the side. Good eats!



Fresh jalapeño peppers
Cream cheese
Shredded Jack cheese
Bread crumbs
Salt (to taste)
Vegetable oil



Wash peppers. Leave the stems on. Cut horizontally about a third of the way through the pepper near the base by the stem. Next, make a vertical slit running from this cut down the length of the pepper. The result should look like a T-shaped slit on only one side. Carefully pry open the wall with a slender paring knife and snip out the membrane and seeds. Doing this takes a little practice. Wash out the rest of the seeds with cold water.

Prepare two large plastic storage bags with flour and bread crumbs, respectively. Fill a coffee cup full of milk and another with three beaten eggs. Place aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and shredded cheese. Microwave for 20-30 seconds until just softened. Mix well with spoon.

Carefully stuff each pepper with the cheese mixture. A butterknife works well for this. Gently press the sides of the pepper back together around the cut and wipe away any excess cheese.

Now comes the fun part…. dunk one pepper in milk, then drop it into the flour bag and shake. Remove and then place in egg cup, being sure to evenly coat all sides of the pepper. Remove from egg and toss in breadcrumb bag. Repeat the egg and breadcrumb step for a thicker batter.

In case you’re wondering, the milk is a binding agent… without it, the batter would slide right off the pepper when placed in the deep fryer.
Peppers can also be arranged on wax paper and sealed in an airtight container in the fridge overnight if needed. Make a batch the night before, then deep-fry them when you need them.


Deep Frying:
Heat a deep cast-iron pan filled with vegetable oil on medium-high. Drip a small amount of water in the oil. If it sizzles, you’re ready. Using a long pair of tongs, carefully set 5-6 peppers in the oil and brown for about three minutes, turning once. Do not crowd the pan as the temperature of the oil will drop.

Remove peppers, drain on paper towels and serve with sour cream, salsa or guacamole. CAUTION: FILLING WILL BE EXTREMELY HOT. LET COOL FOR A FEW MINUTES BEFORE SERVING.