The Conundrum of Chili Powder vs. Chili Powder

A particular terminology duplication has arisen in modern American cookery, and I’m at a bit of a loss on how to resolve it.

In ordinary USA recipe parlance, “chili powder” has come to denote a particular spice blend. Go to any grocery store, or even most dollar stores, and you will see offered among the spices “chili powder” which is not, for certain, powdered chilis. Perhaps powdered chili pepper might make up one component of the spice mixture, but those chilis are unlikely to be very hot since most mainstream American palates run to the mild side (certainly, mainstream Pittsburgh tastes do). This chili powder is, in fact, a blend of spices intended for Mexican and Tex Mex recipes, popularized and mainstreamed more than anything by recipes for the quintessential Tex Mex stew, itself called Chili.

Chili Peppers

Chili Peppers

I have nothing against spice mixes, certainly. As a hobby cook of some conscientiousness, I do like to make my own spice blends when it is practical to do so, especially when a particular blend is not easy to come by in a form offering consistent quality and/or value. Berbere, the standard spice blend for Ethiopian recipes, as an example, is not readily available in grocery stores, and those that do offer it usually do so at a high price, and purchasing a blend online incurs added expense of shipping and the ever-present risk that one’s favorite retailer will discontinue the specific brand of berbere mixed spices that the chef has come to rely upon throwing all of her tried-and-true Ethiopian-style recipes into flux and chaos… rather than tangle with all these contingencies, I make my own so that every batch of Mesir Wat will be the same as the last.

Other blends produce fewer stumbling blocks and thus fewer qualms on my part with using the pre-mixed grocery store blend. Badia makes a good line of spice mixes, including a turmeric-centered curry powder, cajun seasoning, chili powder, etc. I do have a preferred recipe for making my own chili powder (which I will share below), and my own recipes for various differing styles of curry powder, such as garam masala, which should never be confused with other types of curry powders, such as the turmeric-based powders or the Madras powders, etc. But sometimes, a gal just wants grab a jar of spice mix and measure, without going to the trouble of pre-mixing her own blend. By now, I have a pretty good sense, for the sake of my own tastes, when using my homemade blend makes the difference and when throwing myself on the mercy of a commercial spice company makes little to no difference.

And so, I have no qualms with recipes calling for spice mixes, chili powder among them, as it affords the chef a simple opportunity to choose either a homemade spice blend or a store-bought mix. The problem with “chili powder” is that there is an ingredient by the same name that shows up in recipes: namely chili peppers that are powdered.

Powdered Chili Peppers

Powdered Chili Peppers

I’ve become pretty good over the years at telling which type of “chili powder” a recipe is calling for. A recipe for Indian or Thai curry is probably calling for powdered chili peppers, whereas a Mexican, Spanish, Cajun, mainstream American cuisine recipe, quick & easy recipe, etc. are probably calling for the spice blend. This duplicative term bothers me the most as a recipe author; when I post recipes online containing the spice blend called “chili powder” I always feel that I have to clarify in some way. I more often find myself making recipes with chili powder, rather than powdered chilis, and yet I always feel that I have a responsibility to clarify as the writer of a given recipe.

This sense of responsibility, this commitment to clarity makes me wish to solve this terminology impasse in an easier, more efficient way. I suppose I could use the distinction indicated above, chili powder vs. powdered chilis. But this division would really only work for people who follow my recipes close to enough to know I had pre-established this distinction. The term “chili powder” is so well-established in both meanings out there in the world of recipe writing, that I would still feel the need to clarify every time I included “chili powder” in a recipe. What is the elegant solution here? What can I call “chili powder” to make it clear that I mean the spice mix, and not powdered chilis?

I am open to suggestions!

Component Spices for a Chili Powder Blend

Component Spices for a Chili Powder Blend


5 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon oregano
3 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon allspice

Combine all ingredients in a container. Mix well. Use in recipes calling for the spice blend chili powder.

Paella-style Spanish Yellow “Rice”

In searching for interesting recipes to transform into tasty cauliflower “rice” dishes, I keep running into paella. I gather from the recipes I’ve seen that paella is similar to jambalaya in that it aims at being a one-pot meal, a single plate with rice, delicious spice mixes, vegetables, seafood and meat all together in one harmonious blend of flavors.

This time, however, I wasn’t looking for a one-pot meal, but rather an accompaniment, and all the ingredients in a true Paella would have been overkill. I nosed around online and found some recipes for simpler, Spanish rice that was saffron-based, rather than tomato-based. Comparing simpler yellow rice recipes with paella recipes, I came up with the following for using cauliflower “rice” to make a light and flavorful side dish.

As usual, I divide up the ingredients in stages of preparation to keep the raw ingredients and cooked ingredients separate.


1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoons oil
2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup white wine
generous pinch saffron

1 tablespoon oil
2 onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 red bell peppers, chopped
2 bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon paprika
1 cup peas, frozen

2 large or 3 small roma tomatoes, chopped, fresh
6 cups cauliflower, riced
salt and pepper, to taste
lemon wedges

Combine the cilantro, lemon juice, oil and garlic cloves from the first segment of the ingredient list. Set aside.

Add the saffron to the white wine in a small bowl or cup. Allow to steep.

From the third ingredient segment, heat the oil in a medium skillet. Saute the onions, garlic and bell peppers until softened. Crush the bouillon cubes. Add to the skillet along with paprika and the saffron wine mix. Simmer for a few minutes and then add the peas. Heat through and then remove from burner and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the cauliflower rice, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Add the cilantro mixture and stir until well-distributed. Once the skillet mixture is cooled off a bit (I like it to be close to room temperature), add it to the rice and stir once again until combined. Garnish with lemon wedges and enjoy!

Pork Adobo

About halfway through the week, I asked my dad what meat he wanted to use as the base of our meal for the coming weekend. This has become somewhat of a ritual, as he often has opinions on what meat he wants me to use based on preference and what in his freezer should be used sooner than later… and I like to spend a bit a my downtime throughout the week researching new and exciting recipes featuring said meat.

This week he said pork. I’m always game for pork. Researching pork recipes, however, is a more challenging task than other meats. I knew he had a pork loin that he wanted me to use, but when searching for pork on my favorite recipe page,, a simple search yields recipes using every part of the pig! Bacon recipes, shoulder recipes, ham recipes, sausage recipes, etc. There is just such a wide variety of pork preparations and types of pig-related meat that sifting through the recipes becomes a greater challenge than, say, for chicken or beef.

My first instinct, however, was pretty simple. I wanted to do a pulled pork. Alas, but most pulled pork recipes are BBQ oriented. This is not necessary a problem, as I much enjoy BBQ sauce and combining it with pork is always a good idea. However, almost every BBQ recipe I found included mass amounts of sugar. Not just a couple tablespoons — copious scoops of sugar! Even vinegar-based Carolina BBQ called for enormous quantities of brown sugar. My current low carb regimen is not forgiving enough for copious sugar, so most pulled pork was out of the question.

And then I encountered Adobo. I’ve been meaning to try Adobo for some time now, though such intention had faded to the eaves of my brain. Many Adodo recipes included zero sugar, some just a small amount. Thus, a pulled pork Abobo seemed just the thing! Now, traditionally, Adobo meats (chicken seems a common choice, as well) aren’t necessarily “pulled” or shredded at the end. I simply added that wrinkle since my original inclination had been such.


2 tablespoons cooking oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 lbs pork, cut into cubes
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper, or more to taste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)
water, if cooking stovetop

Heat cooking oil in the base of a saucepan or of a crockpot on high. Add garlic and onion. Saute until onions are softened. Add vinegar, soy sauce, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Many traditional recipes like to use whole peppercorns. I simply used fresh ground. Add the brown sugar, if using.

Sugar was not a frequent addition in the recipes I looked at, and so I included it only optionally. I, personally, used one teaspoon, rather than one tablespoon. The teaspoon for tablespoon reduction is a common lower-carb fix I use when recipes call for small amounts of sugar, flour or corn starch. In the case of sugar, I figure recipes calling for a mere tablespoon are only looking to add a hint of sweetness anyway, and in the case of flour or cornstarch, it is for their thickening properties; I’ve found they actually work well enough in smaller quantities with just a little more time and attention to sauce reduction.

Cover and simmer the pork in the adobo mix until it reaches desired tenderness. 3-4 hours on high in the crockpot, 7-8 hours on low. If simmering stove-top, you may need extra water to keep the pork moist as it cooks. Shred, if desired. Serve with a favorite rice dish (or cauliflower “rice” dish).

I was pleasantly surprised how well this recipe turned out considering how few ingredients and seasonings went into it. Normally I gravitate toward dishes with strong flavors and/or complex spice mixes, but this recipe proved to showcase just the right mix of a few tasty ingredients.