Smokey Mexican Chile Paste, Chilmole

Last weekend, Rebecca and I moved into our permanent house here in Haiti. What a relief after months of transition. With food on the mind, our first order of business was setting up the grill! And yes, if you were wondering... it is the same grill we had in Pittsburgh for 8 years, lovingly disassembled and brought over in a suitcase by my MacGyver-of-a-father. As temperatures rise, there is just something special about grilled food. Maybe its that the smokey char reminds me of campfires and sleeping under the stars, maybe its just the uncomplicated joy of cooking over flames. For me, this Smokey Mexican Chile Paste is the closest thing there is to bottling all that is beautiful about grilling. Our non-traditional take on Mexican chilmole paste tempers the hard char of the classic black version, for a lighter, more fruity chili flavor. This paste is excellent for making red rice, a great base for barbecue sauces, a go-to rub for meats, and a potent flavor boost for chilis and other soups. The recipe is inspired by Daniel Hoyer's outstanding Mayan Cuisine

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Yield: about 2 cups


   Soaked Annatto:

  • 1/4 cup annatto seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

   Roasted Elements:

  • 24 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 dried ancho chiles
  • 4 dried guajillo chiles
  • 4 fresh cubanelle peppers
  • 2 dried arbol chiles
  • 3 small corn tortillas
  • 1 cup boiling water

    Toasted Spices:

  • 3 tablespoons Mexican oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground Mexican cinnamon (canela)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt


  1. For the soaked annatto: In a small bowl, combine the annatto seeds and vinegar. Stir to combine, cover, and allow to soak for 2 hours.
  2. For the roasted elements: On a clean hot grill, or dry hot pan on the stove, spread out the roasted elements (garlic, onion, ancho, guajillo, cubanelle, arbrol and corn tortillas). The water will be used in step 3 below. You may need to roast in several rounds, depending on the size of your grill or pan. Roast over high heat until all elements are well colored and begin to develop significant char. This will take 5-10 minutes, depending on the heat of your grill/stove. As each item achieves the necessary char, remove it from the heat and set aside. Note that to achieve a more traditional, almost black color, you would want to thoroughly char all the roasted ingredients.
  3. Remove the stems and seeds from the roasted chiles, roughly chop, and mix with the boiling water in a medium bowl. Cover and allow to soak while you prepare the toasted spices.
  4. For the toasted spices: In a small non-stick pan, combine all the spices (Mexican oregano, cinnamon, pepper, allspice, cloves, and salt). Toast the spices over medium heat until fragrant. This will take about 1 minute. Watch for smoke, and remove from heat if the spices begin to burn.
  5. Combine all ingredients (soaked annatto, roasted elements, and toasted spices) in a blender, food processor, or mortar and pestle. Blend until the mixture comes together in a smooth paste.
  6. Prepared Chilmole can be used immediately, or tightly sealed and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month (or 6 months in the freezer).