Always have the ingredients to throw yourself a mouth party.
One of my favorite flavor combinations is mango and chili, and as a general rule, I love sweet-sour-spicy. And I know I’m not alone in this. So recently, for my twins’ first birthday party (which, like all good first birthdays, was mostly adults), I made chili-lime salt to sprinkle on slices of mango, jicama, and watermelon. It’s refreshing and interesting without burning out your mouth. And thanks to my zeal, I now have a little jar of chili-lime salt in my cabinet for anytime the urge strikes (which is often) – like lunch today, when I added it to tuna.
The process for making chili-lime salt is pretty easy – pretty much all you need is a spice grinder or mini food processor – but it has one unforgiving element, which is zesting the limes. Because citrus zest is pretty wet, I don’t think it works very well to grate the zest like I would if I were adding it to a cake or dispersing it in a marinade. Even though the zest is eventually getting pulverized, you want to remove it whole from the fruit because too much moisture in the grinder gums it up (which is what happened the first time I tried to make it). So instead you need to cut the peel off the lime in strips and then lay the strip on the board and scrape or cut the white pith off. This is way easier with lemons than limes, since lime peels tend to be dryer. I recommend a paring knife for the task, since they tend to be sharp, flexible, and very small. As always, cut away from yourself.
Once the strips are clean, cut them into smaller pieces and give them a buzz in your grinding device of choice. I have one of those little coffee grinders, which I only use for spices because I don’t drink coffee. I think a full-sized food processor blade would miss the zest and not get it small enough, although a blender could work. I’d be interested to try grating the zest and then using a mortar and pestle, but that seems like it would end up too wet.
Once the zest is fully pulverized, add about half that amount of the mild dried chili of your choice. I have a bag of Aleppo pepper, which to me is the ideal chili powder – warm, medium-spice, and just a little bright. If you’re using cayenne, you probably want to start with about half that amount. Also add about half as much coarse salt as chili. So, if you have 2 tbsp pulverized lime zest, add 1 tbsp chili (or 1 1/2 tsp if you’re using cayenne), and 1 1/2 tsps kosher salt. Buzz everything together until you have a fine powder, then taste it to see whether you want more spice or more salt. Keep it in a sealed container – even a Ziploc bag will do fine, although if you can find something reusable that’s probably better. Sprinkle on vegetables and fruits, add to black beans, use it to season meat or fish – put it on ice cream if you’re into that. Chocolate and caramel would both love this stuff. This is one of those all-purpose blends that adds something incredible to just about everything.