Last summer my boyfriend (now fiancé) and I planted our first vegetable garden together. Well, let’s be clear here, it was more of a pepper garden, very few vegetables were planted. I did plant some asparagus which will be wonderful next year and likely for 30 more. I cannot wait! But back to the peppers – we planted a gazillion different kinds such as Banana peppers, Hot Chili peppers, Cayenne peppers, Carolina Reaper peppers, Jalapeño peppers – we had peppers out the wazoo!
Now, what to do with all those peppers? Some you can certainly eat, some you can incorporate into dishes, and well, dried and blended all together you get this very awesome chili powder you can sprinkle on anything. It’s one awesome way to “kick it up a notch” as Emeril Lagasse would say. So this is what we did with our peppers.
Before you start your prep work, I suggest gloving up! Even with wearing gloves, wash your hands thoroughly after handling hot chili peppers. Nothing is worse than burning your fingers, or touching your eyes, nose or other sensitive parts later! Capsaicin, the neuropeptide within chilis that makes them so hot, is a corrosive irritant. I also suggest doing your prep near an open window in a well-ventilated room. Be cautious working with hot chilis around children and pets.
Step 1: Prep Peppers
Inspect your peppers. Avoid using any with soft spots, disease, or other signs of rotting. Wash the peppers of choice. Cut off the top stem portion, and then slice the peppers in half lengthwise.
Unless you’re a heat-heathen, I also suggest to scoop out and discard the inner membrane and seeds. We do, which also makes drying and grinding less messy. It is okay if a few seeds or a little membrane is left behind. Perfection isn’t the goal, but overall we try to remove most of them. If you’re into seed-saving, feel free to set some seeds aside on a paper towel to fully dry – then store away for next year!
Step 2: Blanch & Ice Bath
You might be wondering about the purpose of this step, or if it is really necessary. Truth be told, it is not required! If you want to skip ahead and start drying your peppers, be my guest! But hear me out first.
By blanching the peppers before dehydrating them, it destroys certain enzymes within the peppers that will otherwise slowly break down the quality of the peppers with time. Though not nearly as extreme as roasting, the quick heating process also enhances the complexity of flavor of the peppers. Therefore, blanching peppers helps to maintain the best flavor, color, and texture of the dried chili powder. The same concept is applied to many frozen foods!
Heat a pot of water on the stovetop, full enough to completely submerge your prepped peppers. While it is heating, set up an ice-bath (a bowl full of ice water) also large enough to hold the peppers. It is important to rapidly cool the peppers after blanching to stop the cooking process. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, dump in the peppers. Take note of the time, or set a timer for one minute.
After one minute of blanching, carefully strain the hot water, and get the peppers into the ice bath as quickly as possible. Use caution here! The steam from the pot will be extra spicy! Once the peppers are completely cool, strain away the ice water.
Step 3: Dehydrate Peppers
Drying peppers using a food dehydrator:
Next, lay out the blanched peppers on your favorite slotted food dehydrator trays. Do not overlap the pepper pieces, as they need some air flow between them to dry properly.
Set the dehydrator to 125°F (or the designated “vegetable setting” on your dehydrator), and dry until they’re completely crisp. Again, you might want to do this in a spare room or near an open window. The drying peppers can exude quite a bit of spice into the air! The time it takes for the peppers to fully dry will vary depending on your machine, and the thickness of the type of peppers used.
The goal is to dry them to a state where they snap and crunch when bent, and should not have any flexibility or moisture left to them. Ours usually take around 14 to 18 hours to achieve this.
Drying chili peppers using an oven:
Preheat your oven to 175 to 200°F. The lower the better, as we want to avoid burning the peppers. The goal is to dry them, not cook them! Lay the pepper slices out on a baking pan/cookie sheet. To promote quicker drying, it may be worthwhile to cut any larger peppers into slightly smaller slices than when using a dehydrator – no more than 1 inch wide.
Place them in the oven, and allow to dry until they’re completely crisp. The time can vary from 4 to 8 hours or more, depending on the size and thickness of the peppers. Flip them over halfway through.
Step 4: Grind Chili Powder & Store (or, in reverse)
An experienced gardener friend once told us that dried chilies stay most fresh and flavorful if they are stored whole, ground in small batches as needed. Therefore, we typically only grind one half-pint jar worth at at time (or less) – which lasts us many months! If you dehydrated a fairly small batch of peppers, this may mean grinding all of them at once. That is totally fine! However, if you dried a large amount of peppers or have some leftover from a previous season, wait to grind some of them until your pantry needs restocking.
Next, to transform the dried peppers into chili powder, we grind them in a food processor until the desired consistency is reached. We have since purchased a Ninja Kitchen System which we will use this year. You can certainly use any appliance that will grind the dried peppers. A word of caution – when you go to open your chosen appliance after grinding, keep your face back! If you stick your nose in to take a whiff, you’ll inhale a bunch of finely ground, airborne chili powder – aka, Fire.
Finally, store the ground chili powder or whole dried peppers in a glass container with an air-tight lid. It will “stay good” for over a year in the pantry!
Step 5: Enjoy!
Now go enjoy some of your very own homemade chili powder, and see what I meant about that sad store bought stuff first hand. The flavor of homegrown chili powder is so complex, savory, spicy, and beautiful! I thoroughly enjoy a little sprinkle of this stuff – in many meals.
We love adding chili powder sprinkled over sautéed vegetables or eggs, added to soups, salsa, guacamole, hummus, tacos, and more! So, what about you? How do you like to use your chili powder? Tell us in the comments below!