Field Notes

Hot Sauce Field Guide: Muhammara

As far as Middle Eastern dips are concerned, muhammara is the stepsister, always outflanked by hummus. But we love this underdog, which combines chilies, bread, walnuts, and the sweet-sour kick of pomegranate molasses into a spread that we can’t stop eating.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 slice bread, cut into cubes (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons crushed Aleppo chili flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1 roasted red pepper, peeled, seeds and stem removed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil 1 teaspoon sea salt

In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm the oil until it shimmers. Add the bread cubes and toast, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown. Add the crushed chili flake and cumin and stir to coat, cooking for another minute or so to toast the spices. Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the walnuts, pomegranate molasses, red pepper and olive oil. Process until the mixture forms a thick paste. With the machine running, add ½ cup water and the salt. Transfer to a lidded container until ready to serve. Serve it as a dip with toasted pita bread. The muhammara will keep, refrigerated, for 1 week.

Hot Sauce Field Guide: Mojo Picon

Mojo, like salsa or aji, is really a blanket term, used across multiple countries to refer to a wide spectrum of chili-based sauces. In Cuba, its defining characteristic is orange juice; in Puerto Rico, it’s more of a garlic marinade than a hot sauce—some versions don’t even contain chilies! But the original version, which stems from the Canary Islands, is typically made with chilies (including dried ground pimentón), and bread.

Yield: 3/4 cup

  • 3 dried guajillo chilies (about 1/2 ounce)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 slice bread, cut into small cubes (about 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked pimentón
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

In a small bowl, cover the guajillos with boiling water and let sit for 10 minutes to rehydrate. Drain, reserving the liquid, and remove the stems and seeds from the chilies. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bread and toast, stirring occasionally, until it turns golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the pimentón and toss to coat. Transfer the bread, the rehydrated chilies, garlic, red wine vinegar, and cumin to a food processor, and process. With the motor running, add the reserved chili soaking water by the tablespoon, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency (you can keep it thicker, like a paste, or thin it out to be more of a sauce).

Hot Sauce Field Guide: Sauce Ti Malice

According to Haitian folklore, there once were two friends, Bouki and Ti Malice. Everyday around lunch time, Bouki would show up at Ti Malice’s door to say hello, and Ti Malice, being a hospitable friend, would offer to share his lunch with his unexpected guest. After weeks of sharing his lunch with Bouki, Ti Malice decides to trick his mooch of a friend by preparing a dish that was doused in a very spicy hot sauce he’d made. Bouki tasted the food and loved it, shouting all over town “Try the sauce Ti Malice made for me!” The name stuck, as did Bouki’s lunch routine. In Haiti, sauce ti malice always accompanies griot, a fried pork dish. It would taste equally delicious on carnitas, or even a steak.

Yield: 2 cups

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers (a mix of red and green)
  • 3 fresh habanero chilies, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or vinegar brine from pickled peppers)

In a skillet over medium heat, add the oil. When it’s shimmering, add the onion and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, bell peppers, and habaneros and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bell peppers have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and stir to coat the vegetables. Cook until the mixture looks dry, 2 minutes. Add the vinegar to deglaze the pan, using a spoon to scrape up any browned bits. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the mixture has reduce slightly. Let cool, and transfer to a container; if you prefer a smooth sauce, transfer the mixture to a blender and blend before storing.

Hot Sauce Field Guide: Piri Piri Sauce

Also called “peri peri,” this sauce straddles two continents. It originated in Africa and is named for a pepper that grows wild in the south-central part of the continent (piri is the Swahili word for pepper).

Piri Piri Pepper

Then it traveled to Portugal by way of early traders, where it’s become synonymous with a beloved dish, peri peri chicken. This recipe falls somewhere between the two versions and can be prepared as a marinade and a sauce.

Yield: 1/2 cup

  • 1/2 ounce dried piri piri chilies (or pequin chilies, if piri piris are unavailable)
  • Zest, finely grated, and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 fresh jalapeño chili, seeds and stem removed, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 fresh bay leaf, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt or The Chili Lab Pequin Chili Salt 

Place the dried chilies in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 10 minutes, then drain the chilies and finely chop. To use as a marinade: combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Rub on chicken or shrimp and let sit in the refrigerator for one hour before cooking. To use as a sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a food processor, and pulse to combine. With the motor running, add ½ to 1 cup water, depending on the desired consistency. Transfer to a lidded container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


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Hot Sauce Field Guide: Harissa

This red pepper condiment is ubiquitous on the tables of restaurants and homes alike in its native Tunisia, and nearby countries including Algeria, Libya and Morocco. But it has made serious inroads in the States as well, appearing with regularity on the menus of top restaurants, and on supermarket shelves. Use it as a marinade on chicken or lamb, mix it into stir-fries, or whip it with goat cheese for a snack.


  • 1 1/4 cups
  • 1 sun-dried tomato
  • 3 ounces whole dried chiles, such as guajillo or New Mexico
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, stem and seeds removed
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground caraway
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, add the tomato and the whole dried chilies. Cover with boiling water and set a plate inside the bowl to keep the chilies submerged. Let sit for 10 minutes. Then drain, and remove the stems from the chilies. Place the rehydrated chilies and tomato in a blender. Add the roasted bell pepper, garlic, shallot, coriander, cumin, and caraway. Turn on the blender and add the olive oil in a steady stream until thoroughly combined. Season the mixture with salt. Store in airtight glass jars in the refrigerator. The harissa will keep for one month.

Recipe by The Chili Lab. 

Image by Bon Appetite. 

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