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A Guide to Dried Chiles: 5 Essentials for Mexican Cooking

Sold in cellophane bags fit to burst with fiery red peppers, the large selection of dried chiles available at markets catering to Mexican and Central American cooks can be daunting. When taking on a new mole recipe with a long list of ingredients, it’s hard to know which ones to use - though they’ll keep for several months sealed in airtight containers and stored in a cool dry place while you figure it out.

Hard to tell apart, dried peppers should be uniform in color and free of any mildew or transparency in the skin. They should be wiped clean before using and retain some flexibility. Toasting brings out the flavors in many chiles, but they burn through quickly and need to be watched carefully. If this seems like too much trouble for a little heat, then you’re underestimating the wonderful complexity chiles bring to even the simplest dishes. Here are a few of the most widely available varieties.

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