Zero Waste Recipe: Adobo Sauce

Latin American food in general, and Mexican street tacos specifically, have always been one of my favorite foods—even before I moved to the Bay Area from Toronto. When I discovered San Francisco’s Mission District, I thought I had found heaven on earth—dozens of taco joints tucked between restaurants specializing in Chilean empanadas, Salvadorean pupusas and everything in between.

When I started making tacos at home, whether braising pork shoulder for Tacos Al Pastor or chicken thighs for a spicy Tinga Taco, most recipes called for adobo sauce. If you’re not familiar with adobo sauce, it’s the spicy red mystery sauce often sold in tiny tin cans full of chipotle peppers. The adobo sauce was tasty (not that I had anything to compare it to), but I felt bad that I didn’t have a use for the peppers which made up the bulk of the can.

I started experimenting with adobo recipes and quickly discovered one of the most versatile sauces I’ve ever encountered. Whether you’re grilling, braising, marinating or baking—a little adobo can enrich your favorite dishes with the earthy flavors of sun-dried chiles. I also had an AHA! moment when I realized dozens of my favorite restaurant meals were based on an adobo or a close variation.

Thanks to our local spice store, Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland, we can buy the chiles, salt, cumin and coriander in bulk in our own bags and glass containers. If you don’t have the luxury of a specialized spice store, I would recommend visiting your nearest latin grocer, who will sometimes sell chiles in bulk.

Here’s how I made this a zero waste meal:
Chilies: Bought in bulk at local spice store in muslin bags
Ginger, Garlic, Lime: Bought at local grocery store, package-free
Apple Cider Vinegar: Bought in glass bottle at local grocery store
Salt, cumin, coriander: Bought in bulk at local spice store in glass jars

adobo sauce recipe

Zero Waste Recipe: Adobo Sauce


  • 7-8 dried Guajillo chiles (~2 ounces)
  • 3-4 dried Ancho chiles (~2 ounces)
  • ½ tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • ½ cup cold water


  1. Remove seeds and stems from chiles. Reserve 1 tsp seeds and discard the rest (make sure to wash your hands after!)
  2. Preheat your cast-iron skillet on low-medium heat and toast your chiles until fragrant (2-3 minutes).
  3. Soak chiles in cold water for 30 minutes, discarding water afterwards.
  4. Place rehydrated chiles in a blender along with all other ingredients (including reserved seeds).
  5. Blend ingredients together in Vitamix or other high-powered blender, adding water to adjust until you reach your desired consistency (thinner for braising, thicker (almost chunky) for grilling.