Thomas J. Story

Western chefs are re-writing the rules of salsa.

Ellen Fort and Maya Wong  – April 16, 2020 | Updated May 26, 2020

While salsa verde and rojo grace most tables in the States, the concept of savory salsas sans the traditional tomato or tomatillo base is gaining visibility in some of the West’s best kitchens. Sesame seeds, pepitas, peanuts, toasted chiles, and oils like hazelnut and almond are livening up everything from tacos to crudité. Here’s how chefs are eating and serving these craveable salsas.

Sikil P’ak 

Though there are many variations, the requirements for this Mayan dip are pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sesame seeds, and a tomato, pulverized to create a hummus-like texture. 

Jose Flores, chef at Elda, San Francisco: “Pepitas and sesame seeds are the heartbeat of Mayan recipes. People really love that nutty, buttery taste. Habaneros are typically used in sikil p’ak, but we use Thai bird chiles and make our own chili vinegar, which really makes it different. At Elda we serve it as a dip, with whatever is in season, from sliced peaches to jicama and plantain chips.”  

Recipe: Elda’s Sikil P’ak

Salsa Seca 

This salsa walks the line between a condiment and a seasoning, with minimal oil holding together the fried nuts, seeds, chiles, and spices that make it up. 

Giovanna Rebagliati, owner of Salacious Table, Los Angeles: “I absolutely love it on eggs, or anything with cheese,” says Rebagliati, who sells her salsa seca at L.A.’s Smorgasburg. “Quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, grilled meats, and pastas. A friend of mine loves it on pineapple, and it’s great on vegetables.” 

Salsa Macha 

Garlic, chiles, and peanuts are toasted in olive oil then chopped in a food processor with acid (usually vinegar or sour orange juice). 

Bricia Lopez, chef/ owner of Guelaguetza, Los Angeles: “Salsa macha is my go-to breakfast salsa. You can put it on a taco with just slices of avocado, though it’s also great with seafood. And also when you make it you can make it as spicy as you want—some people put cranberries in there to add a bit of sweetness.”