In Mexico, Central and South America, there are as many salsas as there are scenic vistas. So what distinguishes Guatemala’s version—chirmol—from the rest? Charred tomatoes and copious fresh mint.
Jorge Dugal, a sous chef at Los Angeles’ Republique restaurant who emigrated from Guatemala at age 20, best remembers his grandmother’s chirmol (CHEER-mole). To char the tomatoes, she used a comal—a thin, round griddle, often made of clay, used to cook tortillas and sear meat.
“Then she would chop onion, mint, cilantro, lime and a little bit of salt—and habañero, if you want it spicy. Simple as that,” Dugal says
She combined the other ingredients with the roughly crushed tomatoes to make the chunky condiment.
The salsa caught our attention. But we had trouble charring the tomatoes: Broiled, they browned unevenly, if at all. Charring on cast-iron required a very well-seasoned skillet, which can be problematic. And we ran into another issue—watery store-bought tomatoes. The solution was to skip the step altogether and use sweet grape (or cherry) tomatoes.
For the smoky flavor, we oiled, then blackened red onion and jalapeños under the broiler, but that still didn’t achieve quite the right flavor.
So we added an ingredient that offers smoke in spades: a chipotle chili in adobo. Mixed with the other ingredients, it rounded out the sweet, smoky heat of our chirmol.