Genius Recipes

The Secret Ingredient In This Salsa Is Peanut Butter—Or Is It?

This week’s Genius Recipe from Andrea Aliseda is shockingly simple and good on nearly everything.

August 18, 2021

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

When poet and recipe developer Andrea Aliseda started unraveling the history of her great-grandma’s Guillermina’s storied salsa, she was surprised to find two very different recipes—depending on who she asked.

Enter: Salsa Guille (but not the *only* Salsa Guille). Photo by MJ Kroeger. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson.

Until then, Andrea hadn’t inherited lots of recipes from her family. In fact, “the only one I know of is this salsa,” she wrote when she shared this recipe on Epicurious earlier this year. And it had only arrived in her life recently, when her mom started making it to sell to friends at the elementary school where she works in San Diego.

Intrigued by the heat-taming powers of an uncommon swirl of peanut butter, Andrea traced its roots as far back as she could: First, to the version her mom Alejandra had learned from Guillermina shortly after marrying into the family. Then, to the one kept by her great-aunt Rosalinda, as Guillermina was no longer alive to tell her more.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I have a nut allergy and and had a severe allergic reaction to the secret ingredient “peanut butter” in chili. Please reconsider calling for “secret ingredients” it may be life saving for some of us. I LOVE this website. C”
— Cherri L.

The two recipes shared only a foundation: serrano chiles, onions, and garlic fried in rough chunks, blended with some of the heat-stoked oil they’d sizzled in, plus bouillon for a rounded salty oomph.

But the older version of Guillermina’s recipe kept by Rosalinda had a lot more garlic, and left the salsa chunky, like guacamole, where her mom’s was always blended smooth. And the signature ingredient was missing: “So it says chile serrano, onion, olive oil, little bit of bouillon...” Andrea read, fact-checking in her mom’s old recipe notebook on this week’s episode of The Genius Recipe Tapes. "Yeah, there is no peanut butter!"

The version Andrea makes now is really a third Salsa Guille. She added back some of Guillermina’s garlicky heft. And while her mom’s peanut butter tempers the fire of the serranos, Andrea goes even further, scraping out the seeds and ribs to taste more of the grassiness, with less of the heat. This is fully customizable—Andrea’s mom will ultimately win out when they make it together. “I would probably just do little dots on each bite.”

Guillermina served hers with meaty dishes like carne asada. Andrea's mom likes to scoop it up on baguettes and slices of sourdough. Andrea spoons it on crispy mushroom tacos, sandwiches, and tofu scrambles. I’ve asked it to uplift many a roasted vegetable-grain jumble. There’s little it wouldn’t improve, and in the fridge it keeps well for as long as two weeks. The leftover serrano-spiced oil can replace any oil in pan-fries and salad dressings to joyous effect.

This recipe has changed what I want in a salsa, and what I’ll make to thrill anyone I’m feeding. But best of all, it shows the promise of following family recipes back through every thread and splinter. Everyone it’s touched will have something more to tell you.

Got a Genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to another talented recipe developer, writer, and poet Caroline Lange and our friends at Epicurious for sharing this one!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Julieb September 8, 2021
Has anyone tried this with jalapenos instead of serranos?
zeldie August 19, 2021
Peanut butter and bouillon? sounds awful. why can’t recipes contain proper fresh ingredients? Peanut butter belongs in a kids sandwich. just look at bouillon ingredients and you’ll never buy it again.
paseo August 25, 2021
To each his own and why knock something you haven't even tried?
Ever had peanut sauce with Chinese food? A peanut butter cookie? It's an ingredient in some pretty tasty things beside a pb&j.
[email protected] August 19, 2021
Could you share Rosalinda's version?
Eileen August 19, 2021
Absolutely delighted to see a "salsa" recipe with serrano peppers as the main attraction.
Has anyone considered pumpkin seed butter? Seems like a natural fit.
Cindy August 18, 2021
This sounds amazing and I can't wait to try it. Question about the remaining oil - how long will it keep, given that the onions peppers and garlic were cooked in it?
Limely August 18, 2021
This sounds delish, I'm wondering if the consistency will remind me of hummus! I am looking forward to trying it, thank you for sharing your family's recipe! 😍😊
Cherri L. August 18, 2021
I have a nut allergy and and had a severe allergic reaction to the secret ingredient “peanut butter” in chili. Please reconsider calling for “secret ingredients” it may be life saving for some of us.
I LOVE this website.
Darcy August 18, 2021
absolutely agree - it would be very difficult to detect in the blended salsa or added into a stew!!
Lea C. August 18, 2021
It's her grandmother's secret ingredient. Nobody is trying to sneak nuts into recipes being served to others who have possible food allergies.
Cherri L. August 18, 2021
I hope not, that would be really awful of them. However, I am constantly vigilant for this addition because cooks add nuts to all types of foods, all the time. However, I made this comment, not because I think that cooks/people are malicious. But simply to remind cooks that folks like me would be wholly unsuspecting of finding peanut butter as an ingredient in salsa.
Darcy August 18, 2021
cosmiccook August 18, 2021
Cherri, message heard and thank you! With our social life at a standstill Its not on my radar. You have a valid point! Once we are able--yet again--to entertain on a wider scale we need to think about WHAT we serve our guests.
Jennystewart74 August 19, 2021
Read the recipe and don’t eat it if you are allergic! This is something you made at home not ordered in a restaurant. We all have free choice and most of us can read.
Eva C. August 21, 2021
Of course most people can read. If they are making the recipe for themselves at home, it's common sense not to use an ingredient to which you are allergic. You don't need to imply people are idiots.
However, as a guest in someone else's home, most hosts do not provide their guests with recipes for the food they are serving.
kascherm August 22, 2021
Aren’t the peanuts sprinkled on top a giveaway of the secret ingredient?
Jennystewart74 September 10, 2021
If you have a person in your home for dinner, I would assume there would be some conversation. I work in a restaurant and regularly deal with nut allergies, celiac, shellfish allergies etc. I’m a vegetarian and it’s on me to tell people I don’t eat meat. It says peanuts in the first line!