Spicy Red Salsa with Chile Japonés | Salsa Roja con Chile Japonés


This classic red salsa is one that several people in my family prepare based on their interpretation of my grandma Lola’s original recipe. My sister, Vanessa Wiarco, interviewed our grandmother before her passing and captured the recipe directly from her. Below is the original recipe and some spicy words from Vanessa.

As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved chile. Perhaps it’s because I was born with a bit of natural spice myself. My first recollection of the “Grandma Lola chile” was when it was supposed to be used as a form of punishment against me when I was caught sucking my fingers. I vividly recall the red bowl of salsa presented to me, and being the little devil that I was (or am) I bravely stuck my two fingers in the salsa, licked them, and uttered “Mmmm…this is good,” to my audience’s shock, dismay, and yes, ultimate laughter! I suppose I’ve enjoyed people’s reaction to what I do for the shock value ever since I was two years old.

Needless to say, I have a long history with this salsa. As I grew up and became a familia Wiarco chef, I learned to master the making of one of my favorite salsas, which packs a lot of punch and isn’t for the faint of heart. It goes well with just about anything – tacos, huevos, and sandwiches, are just a few things I love to pair with this salsa. And what better way to preserve the memory and legacy of a hot and spicy grandmother than to pass on her recipe from one generation of Wiarco women to the next. And now I happily hand this recipe on to you, but please remember that its bark IS as loud as its bite! – Vanessa Wiarco (my sister)


My sister, Vanessa Wiarco, poses with a photo of our late grandmother
Photo Credit: Lola’s Cocina

Recipe by Vanessa Wiarco (my sister), original recipe by Dolores (Lola) Drieslein (our grandmother)

40 dry japones chiles
1½ cup water divided
2 large cloves garlic peeled
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
½ 8-ounce (small) can tomato sauce


  1. Lightly toast chiles on a comal or large flat pan over low-medium heat. Move and turn frequently to avoid burning. Once chiles begin to release their aroma and become slightly darker in color, remove from heat.
  2. Blend on medium setting with 1 cup water and garlic until somewhat smooth in texture. You want to still be able to see the seeds, but avoid having chunks of chile or garlic in the salsa.
  3. Transfer chile mixture to a medium jar. Very lightly rinse blender with remaining ½ cup water to obtain remaining chili in blender and add chile-water mixture to jar as well.
  4. Add tomato sauce and salt. Cover and shake jar vigorously until well mixed.
  5. Taste and adjust salt. If necessary, add small amounts of water until salsa reaches desired consistency. This salsa should be light in consistency, but not watery.

Note: Do not, I repeat, do NOT blend tomato sauce with chiles and water to save time. This creates an entirely different texture. Store refrigerated and it can last up to two weeks.

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  1. This is amazing! I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery of the “dried chiles” — Thank you for sharing the secrets! You’ve opened up a whole new world for me.

  2. You are very welcome, Susan! There are so many varieties of dried chilies that it can make your head spin.

    There was a debate about which chile my grandmother used for this specific salsa. Some argued that it was the chile de árbol and others maintained that it was the chile japonés. Finally, my aunt (my grandmother’s oldest daughter) and older sister, who captured the original recipe before my grandmother passed away, both clarified that it was the chile japonés (“the one without the stem!”).

  3. Yes, Mija, it was chile Japones. :). My mom would be so proud and tickled ‘red’ that you you are making her chile world famous!! As the Acosta’s call it ‘Grandma Lola chile’ or ‘GLC’. What a grand tribute to my Mom. On a side note, another small garlic clove or two enhances the already great flavor, which is what my mother said ‘makes’ the chile. Thank you so much Lola!!

  4. Aunt Teresa: Grandma was so excited the first time she saw Vanessa’s PowerPoint presentation on her salsa. She thought she was on a TV when she saw her face on a computer screen! I’m just glad that through food, we are able able to keep her recipes and memory alive. Thank goodness we have you to learn from as well!

  5. I’m getting closer! I just love Filiberto’s red hot sauce. I’ve been trying to get close to it and this has brought me the closest. The only thing is mine seems a tad too bitter?

  6. I just made this and it is FANTASTIC!!! So simple, so spicy and so delicious!! I will be making this as gifts and giving it to people! Thank you for posting it!

    1. So happy to hear this! And yes, it’s definitely spicy. My uncle makes a version of this and gives it to coworkers with a bag of good quality corn tortilla chips (usually the homemade ones from Mexican grocery stores).