The Gardenator

The Gardenator

Red Hot Chili Peppers 101

Since you’re Mexican, can you tell me what chiles to plant for salsa? —Peppery Patty, Hope Ranch Real Mexicans eat real chilis and make real salsa. That’s in our cultural DNA. Not only did the ancient Aztecs ritually rip the hearts out of their conquests, but they also stone-ground chile peppers and tomatoes to make a condiment that has endured the Spanish conquest and become an American staple. In this week’s column, Gustavo the Gardenator shares his wisdom of this ancient art form of what he calls “being a real Mexican.” The fastest way to get your honorary Mexican citizenship is to buy three different five-gallon chile pepper plants. Gustavo recommends chile de árbol as your go-to chile plant, chile campana as a nice complement, and chile habanero to add the heat. Be careful because “el habanero es bravisimo” (it’s really, really hot).

Mix your soil with organic fertilizer, and make sure you water them two to three times a week, especially when first planted. Chiles like the warm sun and will ripen in the summer. “En dos meses, dan chilitos,” says Gustavo, meaning that, in two months, you’ll get lots of peppers. If you want to sundry your chile de árbol, you can leave them in the sun and wait another two months. The total cost for this path to dual citizenship: $150 bucks.

So what to do with these peppers?

Here is Gustavo’s quick and simple salsa recipes. This is your medium-heat house staple using a blender. You can experiment and vary this recipe to your heart’s content.

—3 jitomates (red tomatoes), boiled

—10 tomates (small green tomatoes with husks, what your gringos call tomatillos), boiled

—6 dried chiles de árbol

—Garlic clove and salt

Put the stuff in the blender with a little bit of water.

And here is Gustavo’s Aztec warrior salsa recipe using a molcajete (Mexican stone mortar and pestle).

• First add a clove of garlic, and mash that up in the molcajete.

• Wrap the jitomates and tomates in aluminum and roast them on comal (Mexican iron griddle). Remove skin and pulp and then add them to the molcajete. Toast the chiles and add those, too. Add salt and a tiny bit of water, and bam!

• Grab chips and beer, and start the fiesta music with Vicente Fernández or Eydie Gormé and Los Panchos’ version of “Sabor a Mi.”

Gustavo Uribe is a fifth-generation agricultural specialist who has worked as a professional gardener in Santa Barbara for more than 30 years. Send your gardening questions to

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