MAKES: About 2 cups

TIME: 45 to 50 minutes

This classic cooked tomato and chile sauce can be served as is or pured and used for enchiladas or tacos. The guajillo chiles lend a complex, smoky flavor, as well as moderate heat. If you want a milder salsa, substitute ancho or another mild chile (see the chart onEveryday Dried Chiles).

Save the chile soaking water to thin the salsa if it gets too thick or use it in Tortilla Soup.

2 large guajillo or other medium-hot dried chiles, toasted, soaked, and cleaned(see The Basics of Chiles and Peppers)

1/4 cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

2 large onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped, with their liquid (about 3 cups; canned are fine)

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Mince the chiles. Put the oil in a medium saucepan or deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chiles, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, some salt, and plenty of pepper.

Adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened and come together, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot or at room temperature. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Variations

Red Enchilada Sauce. Essential on enchiladas (see Cheese Enchiladas with Red Mole): Use an immersion blender to pure the sauce in the pan. Or cool the mixture slightly, pour it into a blender or food processor, and pure carefully.

Salsa Borracha. Translates as drunk salsa because it’s cooked with beer and finished with tequila: In Step 1, add a bottle of beer with the tomatoes. (It might take a little longer to thicken.) In Step 3, use an immersion blender to pure the sauce in the pan. Or cool the mixture slightly, pour it into a blender or food processor, and pure carefully, scraping down the sides as necessary. Finish with 2 tablespoons (about a shot) of tequila if you like.

Charred Salsa Roja. If you have the grill going already, why not? Cut the tomatoes and onions into thick slices and grill on both sides until charred, about 10 minutes total. Proceed with the recipe; add 2 tablespoons or so of chopped fresh mint if you like, in Step 3.

Smoky and Hot Salsa Roja. Toast, soak, and clean a dried chipotle chile along with the others. Or add a canned chipotle chile with its adobo along with the tomatoes.

Salsa Sofrito. Substitute roasted red or yellow bell peppers (see Roasted Red Peppers) for the guajillos; replace the cilantro with a tablespoon or so of chopped fresh oregano leaves and use red wine vinegar instead of the lime juice.