The Winter Kitchen: Salsa Macha

When I’m on a Mexican cooking binge I have to make some condiments to serve with meals and Salsa Macha is among my favorites. I love the name, which could be translated roughly as “bold sassy woman sauce,“ and I love the flavor, which manages to be very hot and very delicious. This one is for fire-loving palates. When most Americans hear “salsa” they think immediately of the tomato-based pico de gallo, but in fact there is a huge range of salsas and table condiments in Mexico and, as far as I can tell, most of them are delicious.

Among published recipes there are infinite variations, and my preference is for the simplest version, which I learned from the writing of Zarela Martinez more than a decade ago and have been making with only slight alteration ever since. You will need both a spice grinder and a mini food processor. The blender doesn’t work, since too much oil would be needed to keep the blades turning.

1 ounce chiles de Arbol, about 25

1 cup roasted peanuts

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

salt and mild olive oil as needed

Snip the stem end off each chile and shake out all the seeds you can. Discard the seeds. Put the chiles in a small saucepan over the lowest heat and cook somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes, stirring and shaking occasionally. When you start, notice the sound they make when you stir them, because your best indication that they are done is when the sound becomes higher pitched and somehow drier. They will be a couple of shades darker and a little smoother and glossier than when you started, and more brittle if you squeeze one between your fingers. Be careful not to scorch them.

At the same time, put a small skillet over low heat, put the garlic cloves still in their skins in the skillet, and turn them occasionally while the chiles cook. When the skins are browned in spots, take them out of the skillet. The important thing is that the cloves inside be a bit cooked and no longer raw-tasting. At times when I have leftover roasted garlic or garlic confit in the refrigerator I often use that, using several cloves instead of two to compensate for the milder flavor.

Grind the chiles in the spice grinder to a fine powder. Put the powder in the mini prep and add the peanuts. Process until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.

Peel the cooked garlic cloves, add them, and process to the fine-crumb stage. Sprinkle in the teaspoon of vinegar and add olive oil to taste. I add the oil a tablespoon or two at a time, processing briefly between additions, and add only enough to coat the “crumbs” and bring the salsa together. Many commercial versions are swimming in oil, which doesn’t appeal to me, but suit yourself. Now taste and salt as needed. I can’t guess at a quantity because it depends how much salt was on your peanuts, but this is a condiment and in my opinion it should lean salty, to balance the heat.

It’s great on a grilled tortilla as a snack or cook’s treat, and good as a table condiment with any dish that isn’t too delicate in flavor. I’ve enjoyed it with shrimp rubbed with chipotle and garlic and grilled. It would be good with simply cooked and salted earthy greens. Today I dished up simply cooked black beans from Rancho Gordo, grilled some asadero on top, and dolloped  some creme fraiche and salsa macha on the side. Simple, filling, and interesting to eat.


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