Red Chile Sarsa
Isabel Robles, a descendienta with whom I recently shared a lively Californio meal, spoke hungrily of this robust sarsa that her mother always served at barbeques. My family had never made this sarsa -- which goes to show that there was some diversity among the early ranchero families.
12 dried red chiles
, such as California or New Mexican
water, for puréeing
2 green onions, minced
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup black or green olives
1 to 2 teaspoons reserved chile seeds
Wipe chile surfaces clean, as they are usually dusty. Place in a heavy, dry skillet over medium heat to toast, pressing them down with a spatula as they soften. Turn after 1 minute to soften the other side. Do not burn chiles, or they will become bitter. Remove the chiles from the skillet, cut in half, and shake out most of the seeds, reserving them. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 15 minutes.
Lift out one third of the chiles and place in a blender jar, adding 1/4 cup water to help purée them. Add more water if necessary. Purée the chiles and pour into a strainer set over a bowl. Continue to purée the chiles, adding water to help, and pour into the strainer. Press the purée through the strainer with a wide spoon. Scrape all the chile residue off the bottom of the strainer. Discard the chile skins.
Stir the green onions, garlic, olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and olives into the chile purée. (It was believed that you had to use olives with pits, the way they were cured on the ranchos, for the added flavor.) Store in the refrigerator for 2 hours to let the flavors blend. Sprinkle the reserved chile seeds on top just before serving.