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Chile Paste, Nine Ways

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Makes about 1/2 cup 1x

Time 45 minutes, largely unattended

Units Scale


  • 2 ounces any whole dried chiles (6 to 12, depending on size)
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil


  1. Toast the chiles in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, a minute or 2 on each side, then soak them in boiling water until soft, 15 to 30 minutes. Drain the chiles, saving the soaking liquid, and remove and discard the stems, seeds, and veins. (For a hotter paste, save some of the seeds.)
  2. Put the chiles, any seeds you’re using, and a pinch salt in a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth, adding a spoonful of soaking water at a time and stopping the machine to scrape down the sides as necessary, until it reaches the desired consistency.
  3. Put the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chile paste, stirring constantly, until deeply colored and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Just before using, taste and adjust the seasoning. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

— Recipe from How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition

Recipe variations

Mexican-Style Chile Paste
Use all guajillo or other dark chiles: In Step 2, purée in 1 teaspoon chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 2 tablespoons fresh epazote (see page 48), Mexican oregano, or oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried). Proceed with the recipe.

Chipotle Paste
Hot. Hot. Hot: Use some or all dried chipotles. Or skip Step 1 and just use 1 small (7-ounce) can chipotles with their adobo sauce (about 1⁄3 cup).

Thai-Style Chile Paste
Quite complex: Use 2 or 3 Thai chiles along with the mild chiles. In Step 2, purée in 1 inch lemongrass, peeled, trimmed, and chopped, and 1⁄4 cup fresh cilantro or Thai basil.

Vietnamese-Style Chile Paste
Use 2 or 3 Thai chiles along with the mild chiles. In Step 2, add 1 tablespoon chopped garlic and 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 cup fresh mint. After cooking, squeeze in the juice of 1 lime.

Indian-Style Chile Paste
Useful if you want to add heat to Indian dishes: In Step 2, purée in 1 tablespoon garam masala, or more to taste.

The flavor is quite complex: In Step 2, purée in 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon chopped garlic. Use olive oil instead of vegetable oil.

Chile and Black Bean Paste
In Step 2, purée in 2 tablespoons fermented black beans. Omit the salt until you taste for seasoning in Step 3.

Chile-Garlic Paste
Much longer-lasting, and tangy from the vinegar: Use 1 cup dried red chiles; don’t bother to toast and soak. Heat 1⁄2 cup cider vinegar until just boiling. Combine the chiles and vinegar in a blender with 1/4 cup chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Purée as directed, adding more vinegar if necessary to make a paste. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.