Yesterday I got to spend the afternoon with my friend Angela Nava, her mom Bertha and their friend Consuelo making tamales. It's an annual tradition I always look forward to. Because Bertha is a dog lover, she opens her house to both me and my girls, so I get to bring Shayna and Ketzel, my two big Rhodesian Ridgebacks, with me to play with their "sister friends," Angela's two Ridgebacks. The four play together every weekend at what I'll just say is an undisclosed location, so they are their own happy pack and have a great time tearing through Bertha's home, getting treats of carrots and apples and barely stopping to catch their breath. I also love this tradition because tamales are just the excuse for an afternoon of talking and eating. Yesterday, Bertha made a big pot of vegetable soup for us and we noshed on El Indio chips and salsa in between tamale-making steps. Then Angela brought out some Christmas cookies she made and they opened the box of snowball cookies I brought.
But this isn't about tamales. It's about the hot and zesty sauce that Consuelo used to season the pork filling for the tamales and which ended up next to the traditional chunky salsa for us to dip our chips into. Consuelo, who is from Mexico, can't stand Tabasco sauce because she finds it too vinegary. She makes her own from chiles de arbol, an extremely hot pepper thought to be derived from cayenne. Its name, which translates to "treelike" from Spanish, refers to the woody stems attached to the pod. The chiles are often used to make wreaths or other decorative items but when used in cooking, a couple or few can ratchet up the heat of dishes like salsa, chili, tacos, a stir fry, soups and stews. You can find them in Hispanic grocery stores but also in many big-name supermarkets.
I was delighted that Consuelo was willing to share with Angela and me how she makes the sauce. It is very simple but those chiles are fiery hot and you get the full thrust of the heat throughout the cooking process. It fills up the air when the chiles are boiling and continues to force its way into your sinuses even when you're blending them with other ingredients in the food processor. The chiles are that powerful. But it's worth it. The result is delicious and one of those things that, if you like spicy food, should be a staple in your refrigerator.
Now, what she told us was kind of loose, as in no measurements. I made it today and think I've come close to what I tasted yesterday.
Consuelo’s Hot Sauce
1 2oz.-pkg of chiles de arbol
3-5 cloves of garlic
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
¾ cup distilled white vinegar
1. Remove stems from chiles and place the chiles in a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes or until the chiles are very soft.
2. Remove the chiles from saucepan and place in blender or food processor. Let them cool.
3. Add garlic, salt, pepper and about ¼ cup of water and puree.
4. Add vinegar and blend.
The result is a vibrant red sauce studded with seeds.
This makes about 12 ounces of sauce. I'm giving some away as a Christmas present in one of the great little jars I found at CostPlus.