Salsa Macha, your new fave

Salsa Macha is a smoky, spicy, nutty, Mexican chili oil hailing from Veracruz that is excellent on grilled meats, eggs, cheese, veggies and even a nice alternative to tomato-based salsas with your chips. Oh, and the heat is totally customizable.

My father loves his salsa. When I was younger, he’d make it in large quantities and he and my sisters would devour it in no time.

Me, not so much.

I have not been shy of announcing here how much of a wimp I am when it comes to very spicy food. I usually go for medium heat, not the kind that knocks you over with the first whiff and then pummels you as you eat it. Nope. Give me a 1 or 2-alarm heat any day. Let me enjoy the smokiness of the pepper or the freshness of the tomatoes and the slow build-up of heat on my tongue over the course of a meal. This is more my speed.

This is why I was intimidated by this salsa when I first heard of it. Salsa macha hails from the state of Veracruz in Mexico. “Macha” is the feminine of the Spanish word “macho,” meaning anything from overly aggressive to domineering to virile or brave. So the thought behind naming this salsa “macha” is that you need to be rather brave to eat it as it’s made with nothing but spicy dried chiles, oil and nuts. I’m not that brave, so I figured this salsa was not for me.

Or so I thought.

This past summer, I took a mole-making class presented by the local chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier. The presenting chef, Flor Franco, is from Veracruz, and I was excited to learn a different style of mole making. After the main presentation, while we were waiting for the kitchen to prepare dinner for us, the chef brought out her salsa macha. It was delicious. She didn’t use the chiles de árbol that all the recipes I’d seen used. Her’s mimicked the chiles she used in her mole: ancho and guajillo chiles. Anchos are dried poblanos, so they added a smoky, slightly sweet overtone, and the guajillos gave color, body and a mild chile flavor. She also added some of the seeds along with the nuts and sesame seeds. We dipped freshly made corn tortillas into it, and it was heaven.

That’s when I learned that the salsa can be modified to individual tastes and still evoke the essence of the original inspiration.

This has become one of my favorite condiments. I put it on eggs, tacos, tortas, and steamed veggies and use it as a meat marinade. I cut off some slices of fresh queso fresco, add it to a warmed fresh corn tortilla and drizzle this salsa on it. It’s smoky, it’s mildly spicy and nutty and utterly customizable. Want it hotter? I call for one chile de árbol, but you can use more. Or use dried chipotles if you want the smokiness but with more heat than an ancho will give you. The main thing is that the chiles are dried, not fresh, and they need to be fried in plenty of oil to infuse the oil with their flavor. Think of Thai chili oil ... with nuts.

I hope you try this salsa. It’s definitely different than the typical tomato-based versions you think of when you think of Mexican salsas. You might not want to serve it in place of your chunky, spicy tomato salsa or smooth taqueria salsa with your chips but try serving it along with them so that your guests have a different experience. And maybe just convert them, too.

The first step is to clean the chiles, which includes wiping them with a damp towel to remove some of the dust. Then cut off the stems, remove the seeds and veins, then tear the chiles into pieces.

You heat up oil, I love using my favorite California olive oil, and toss in some garlic to brown lightly.

Next, go in the peanuts …

Pepitas …

And sesame seeds and fry them until they're toasty and fragrant.

Next, go in some of the reserved seeds from the chiles.

Lastly, the chiles go in and get bathed in the fragrant oil, hanging around with the heat off, soaking up all the deliciousness.

Then it gets whizzed in the blender to a chunky pesto consistency, and you're good to use.

This stuff is great on almost anything but especially in quesadillas.

Until next time . . . xo, ani

Salsa Macha
Makes about 2 cups of salsa


1 ounce (about 6-7) dried guajillo chili peppers
1 ounce (about 2-3) dried ancho chili peppers
1 chile de árbol
1½ cups good quality extra virgin olive oil (my favorite is California Olive Ranch)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup peanuts, shelled, with or without skins 
¼ cup pepitas
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tsp whole dried Mexican oregano
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 
1½ teaspoons packed brown sugar


Wipe chiles with a damp paper towel to remove some of the dust. For the chiles de árbol, remove the stem leaving the seeds in the pod for some added heat or remove them for a slightly less spicy result. For the bigger chiles, either tear or cut off the stems, slice or tear the chiles down the center to open and reveal seeds and veins and remove them. Reserve 1 teaspoon of the seeds; discard the rest and the stems. Set chiles and reserved seeds aside.

Heat oil in a sauté pan on medium heat until just starting to shimmer but not too hot and definitely not smoking. Carefully add the garlic cloves, stirring to keep them from burning. Once just starting to color, about 2 minutes, add the peanuts and stir, cooking for 30 seconds. Add the pepitas, stir, cooking for 30 seconds. Add the sesame seeds, and stir, cooking for 2 minutes or until the seeds and nuts have just turned golden. Add the chili seeds and chiles. Sauté for 30 seconds, then turn the heat off and allow chiles to steep for up to 5 minutes. Carefully transfer all to a blender. Add the oregano, vinegar and brown sugar and pulse until you get a coarse pesto. Don’t over-process; you want it fine enough, so there are no big chunks of dried chile, and the peanuts have been broken down but not so fine that it’s puréed.

Transfer to an airtight container like a ball jar. It’s wonderful, still slightly warm, but once it cools completely, refrigerate. It will keep in the airtight container for a month in the refrigerator if it lasts that long! It’s best at room temperature, so either pull it out early and allow it to warm up while you prepare your meal or portion out what you think you’ll use into a microwave-safe dish and zap it for 10 seconds to take the chill off. Stir and serve.


  1. I first had Salsa Macha at a restaurant in Boise, ID and it was delicious. It was very spicy hot and smokey tasting. I had asked the waiter what was in it, and he told me chilies, peanuts, black garlic, etc. Desparately trying to replicate it. Just made your recipe. It is close, but I feel it has too much vinegar and I definitley should have increased the heat factor. Also, despite throwing it in my food processor, the chilies still tasted a bit like cardboard… perhaps this will improve if it ages in the refrigerator for a few days? Or, maybe I should hydrate the chiles some next time?

    1. You don't want to hydrate. The chiles need to be fried dried. If you hydrate the chiles, you're making a regular salsa and not a chile oil, which this essentially is. How fresh were your chiles to begin with? I buy chiles where they sell them in bulk so I can pick and choose. You want to choose chiles that are still flexible. I other words, they bend easily when folded without cracking. If chiles crack when you bend them, they're too old and therefore, not nearly as flavorful, which adds to that "cardboard" taste. Also, you might want to try pulsing it a little finer, more like a pesto, to help combat that cardboard outcome. And yeah, regular readers know that I'm a wimp when it comes to heat so I tend to temper spice levels but I do try to remember to say, if you want it hot, load up the chile! :) The vinegar does two things: helps to stabilize the salsa so that it lasts longer and adds needed acidity. But of course, you can lower the amount by a third if it's to vinegar-forward for you.

  2. When do the vinegar and brown sugar get incorporated?

    1. So sorry! That's the problem when you're a one-woman show! Add the oregano, vinegar and brown sugar to the blender after you've transferred the fried contents to it. Thank you for the catch and I've corrected my directions.

  3. How do I avoid my salsa being too pasty? I like it more oily but can’t seem to get passed making it thick. Help

    1. Hi! Apologize for the tardy response. So, to make it thinner, simply add more olive oil. Also. it will be thick when it's first removed from the fridge. It's why I make the full batch but keep about 1/2 cups worth in a smaller mason jar on my counter - enough to get through in a few days time. The room temperature salsa will be thinner, with a less paste-like consistency.


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