Salsa Macha Is the Nutty, Do-Anything Sauce You Didn't Know You Needed

April 30, 2018

Sometimes, a single taste of something new has the ability to completely stop you in your tracks—to shake up your taste buds and spark your interest in a food or type of cuisine you don’t know much about. Trying salsa macha—a thick, spicy, nutty salsa that hails from the state of Veracruz in Mexico—did that for me.

I didn’t try it in Veracruz, but at Rolf and Daughters in Nashville. Our little table was packed full of small plates, but the one that captivated me the most was a simple salad of raw butternut squash, which was shaved into ribbons and tossed with salsa macha, fresh mint, and thin wisps of mimolette, an aged cow’s milk cheese from France. The salsa macha electrified the dish: its nutty, tangy spiciness the perfect foil to the sweet, earthy squash and sharp cheese.

That dish made me rush home and learn all I could about salsa macha.

This is not your typical salsa. Photo by Ty Mecham

The cookbook Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen by Gonzalo Guzmán and Stacy Adimando was a good place to start. There’s a whole chapter devoted to salsas (16 in total). The authors call salsa macha “a very special sauce,” one that’s traditionally made with peanuts coarsely ground with garlic, olive oil, and dried chiles, served with the regional quesadillas of Veracruz. Nopalito’s version opts for raw sunflower seeds, along with a generous amount of vinegar and dried oregano.

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Salsa macha recipes from Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy, and Pati Jinich are similar to Nopalito’s, yet all distinct from one another, with different types of dried chiles (and levels of heat), seasonings, and methods. These differences undoubtedly reflect the variations that you’ll find from cook to cook throughout the region and country. Diana Kennedy’s version in My Mexico: A Culinary Odyssey with Recipes forgoes nuts entirely but adds a full cup of beer (I’ve bookmarked it to try!).

I combined my favorite elements from these recipes to create my own version: the sunflower seeds from Nopalito’s, the technique of toasting dried ancho chiles in hot oil from Pati Jinich’s, and the zippiness of apple cider vinegar from Rick Bayless’s. I’ve kept a supply of it in my fridge ever since.

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Top Comment:
“Among many other uses I've discovered for Salsa Macha (it is perfect on fried eggs and in Chihuahua cheese omelets), I find it is also amazing when spread on corn bread in the place of butter or drizzled on cheesy nachos along with smoky tomato salsa. ”
— Willie R.

Here are delicious ways to use it: toss with roasted vegetables (it’s amazing with roasted carrots and broccoli); use as a dressing (thinned with a little olive oil) for salads, beans, and grain bowls; serve alongside grilled fish or steak; slather on grilled bread; drizzle over fried eggs; and, of course, dip tortilla chips in it. It’s elevated everything I’ve paired it with. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of its potential.

I’ve also been using it to make these springy chicken tostadas. I took a cue from the shaved butternut squash salad at Rolf and Daughters and topped my tostadas with shaved asparagus and radish, lots of salsa macha, and crumbled queso fresco. They’re messy to eat, in the very best way. Omit the chicken for a vegetarian tostada, swap out the chicken for steak or pork, or change up the vegetables with the seasons. But always keep the salsa macha.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Willie Rowe
    Willie Rowe
  • Sarag
  • Laila Marcela
    Laila Marcela
  • Annada Rathi
    Annada Rathi
  • Valhalla

Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.


Willie R. March 5, 2019
I originally made the simple version I read about in Zarela's Veracruz cook book. It's just roasted peanuts, roasted chili arbol, salt, olive oil and raw garlic and it's tasty but muy caliente. To make it even tastier (and not so spicy) I've been slowly experimenting by adding less arbol and more chili morita (the small red smoked chili that's somewhat like a chipotle) along with various ratios of ancho and pasilla chills; and also by adding Marcona almonds to the roasted peanuts. For my next batch I'll finally try adding sesame seeds. Among many other uses I've discovered for Salsa Macha (it is perfect on fried eggs and in Chihuahua cheese omelets), I find it is also amazing when spread on corn bread in the place of butter or drizzled on cheesy nachos along with smoky tomato salsa.
Sarag May 5, 2018
My high school senior wants a vegan graduation party. I can’t wait to have her taste this salsa! I think I want all the nuts and seeds, but maybe I will make lots of variations. And that butternut squash and radish base sounds wonderful, even though I’ve never eaten raw butternut!
Laila M. May 4, 2018
Hello! Well I’m from México and a Chef, I can asure you that this Salsa Matcha is one of the best salsas ever to exist, but here we always do roasted nuts, and those depend on the chilies you decide to use, they may be fresh or dried, and we almost always mix sesame seeds and sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and penuts are the most frequent mixes. I actually do a Salsa Matcha with Orange Habaneros and do the second option and LOVE it! It’s a different opportunity to try it and to have a fresher aproach and still keeping it as a Mexican Salsa!
Laila M. May 4, 2018
Assure* i’m sorry for the grammar it’s late, hope you enjoy trying this version!
Terri S. May 4, 2018
Laila, would love to try your version with habaneros! What all do you put in it? Thank you!
Laila M. May 4, 2018
I’m sorry the autocorrect changed Macha to Matcha! Hahah well hope you like here’s the recipe in both English & Spanish it’s a small portion but if you double up it’s ok!

4 roasted orange habaneros
50g roasted peanuts
20g roasted sesame seeds
2 cloves of garlic
5g of sugar
10g fresh thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

4 chiles habaneros tatemados
50 gr de cacahuate
10 gr de ajonjolí
2 dientes de ajo
5 gr de azúcar
10 gr de tomillo
Sal y pimienta al gusto
peejay September 20, 2020
Can you can this? I would like to give it as Christmas presents this year. Thank you!

Puede ponerla en lata? Me gustaria dar este por Navidad este ano. Gracias!
Annada R. May 1, 2018
It was startling for me to read about salsa matcha, Emily because looking at the ingredients, it's so similar to a peanut chutney made in Western part of India. Roasted peanuts, green pepper, garlic (optional), salt and cumin seeds are crushed into a paste and mixed with tangy plain yogurt. This chutney accompanies vege and lentil fritters and even dosa. Adding finely diced red onions before serving adds another level of flavor to the chutney too.
EmilyC May 1, 2018
So interesting Annada! That chutney sounds wonderful. What is it called or do you have a recipe? I’d love to try it!
Valhalla April 30, 2018
Thanks for the reminder I need to make this again! I am partial to Alex Supak's recipe from Tacos: Recipes and Provocations with sesame seeds.
EmilyC April 30, 2018
You’re welcome! It’s such an amazing salsa. I’ll have to try Supak’s recipe. I looked at several recipes with sesame seeds and I’ll bet a few tablespoons mixed in with the sunflower seeds would be lovely too.