Any dried mild pepper will work in this recipe if you can’t find dried California peppers. Or, feel free to swap in a spicier dried pepper if you prefer.
1 pound thick-skinned red bell peppers (2–3 peppers)
3 dried California chile peppers (available in most markets)
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds (or roasted ground cumin)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 medium garlic cloves left in their skins
1 large or two small jalapenos
2 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup sweet onion coarsely chopped, such as Vidalia
2 tablespoons olive oil
If you have a gas range, place the whole red bell peppers over the open flame of one burner and char the skin on all sides until black. I used two burners and did all three bell peppers at once. After they are totally black, remove and put directly into a zip lock bag and seal. Let these sit in the bag for ten minutes. If you do not have a gas range, use your oven broiler to char the skins by placing them onto a broiler pan and charring close to the broiler grates. If weather permits, an outdoor grill works very well.
Place a pan or kettle of water on to boil.
While the peppers sit in the bag, toast the 3 California chile peppers, coriander seeds, caraway seeds and cumin seeds in a medium sauté pan over medium heat until browned. Be careful not to burn.
Transfer the 3 California chile peppers to a bowl, pour boiling water over them to cover and place a top on the bowl to keep in the steam. Let those sit while you continue with the recipe.
Pour the toasted spices and the salt into a mortar and grind with the pestle until ground fine. Set aside.
Use the same pan and the same method as the spices and toast the garlic until slightly blackened on the outside skins. Remove to your cutting board and peel off and remove skins. Set garlic aside.
Open the bag with the bell peppers and under running water or in a large bowl of water, peel off skins, they should come right off. Move the peppers to your cutting board, remove stem and seeds and place the flesh into a blender.
Along with the peppers, add the ground spices and the toasted peeled garlic to the blender.
Cut open the jalapeno and remove seeds and stem and place whole into the blender.
Add the tomato paste, cilantro, lemon, onion and olive oil to the blender.
Finally, remove California chiles to your cutting board using tongs and remove seeds and stem and add the softened flesh to the blender. Save the pepper water.
Blend the ingredients to a smooth puree and serve or refrigerate until needed.
If too think, dilute with a small amount of the pepper water.