This, my friends, is “Salsa Seca”. At least it is according to the menu at San Francisco’s Tartine Manufactory.
First, there is the taste: It’s like chili oil, but it’s not too spicy; it’s smoky, warm. You taste the chili, and you know that it’s there because it has imparted it’s flavor and fragrance and vibrancy into the oil. But it’s OK. He’s not here to hurt you. He’s tame; he plays well with other. Then there is the crunch: Instead of there just being chilis in said oil, there are also sesame seeds, and flax seeds, and sunflower seeds, and pepitas… and wait, wait, are those cashews? Yes, yes those are cashews.
According to the NY Times, Salsa Macha (a type of salsa seca…but more in that later) is supposed to be the most valuable condiment of 2020. I guess I’m a little late to the party because I didn’t experience it until early 2022. And I’m not sure that what I ate was even actually Salsa Macha.
So… You know that meme about recipe bloggers telling you their whole life story before they finally give up the recipe? Well, brace yourself, I’m about to become that blogger.
It all started when a friend called me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted travel from Las Vegas to San Francisco to watch his dog, Fievel, while he was out of town for his brother’s wedding.
I had recently been involved in the breakup of a nearly seven year relationship, and I was in the process of deciding where exactly in the world I wanted to try and rebuild my life. I had been in Northern California the previous couple of weeks taking care of my mom after a hip replacement, and during that brief but beautiful time (I mean, except for the hip surgery — But she recovered in record time and is doing amazing, thank you for asking!), I had really grown fond of the area and the NorCal lifestyle.
“Let me get back to you…” was my initial response, but it didn’t take me long to make the rash and irrational, but earnest and optimistic decision to pack up everything that I needed to survive into my 2011 Jetta, and drive across state lines.
My mom, who lives about an hour outside of San Francisco, agreed to let me stay with her for a few months while I tried to establish roots, and so I dropped off a few items with here on my way up the coast, and proceeded into the city by the bay.
For nearly a week, I woke up every the morning to the promise of hot coffee and endless adventure. I dressed and prepared myself as seasonally appropriately as I could having just come from Las Vegas, and walked around aimlessly until I got hungry. At the end of each day, my head was full of inspiration, my belly full of delicious food, and my FitBit showed that I had taken over 25k steps.
A restaurant that I had always wanted to try, but never really wanted to wait in the line outside of was Tartine Manufactory. Every time I had found myself nearby there was either a line down the block, or a sign taped to a station declaring that they were sold out of bread.
My last solo day in the city, before my friend returned from LA, I decided to give Tartine another try. It was a Tuesday, and the thought didn’t actualy hit me until I was already sitting in a coffee shop on Valencia, drinking too-sour espresso and reading an Elena Ferrante novel.
Geographically, I was halfway there (kinda), and the Oprah voice inside my head shouted that I needed more bread in my life. It was time.
There was only one couple in the line when I arrived, and no deterrent signs to be found. I waited about five minutes before it was my time to enter the sanctuary (Manufactory), and before I knew it, I had ordered one of the only items on their menu that seemed to be vegan friendly: The Avocado Tartine.
This was for “work”, I told myself, so I barely winced as I paid the nearly $20 (after tip) for fancy toast. With my write-off-able receipt in hand, I was instructed to sit in the outdoor “parklet” and wait patiently for someone to bring me my food.
There was plenty of seating in said “parklet” on this rare occasion, and the table I found allowed me to look inside, into the dine-in portion of the Manufactory,. Unless my eyes and facial recognition software had deceived me, I swear that I saw Chat Robertson himself sitting and enjoying one of his own naturally leavened creations.
The Ferrante came back out, and few more pages of “Days of Abandonment” later – an oddly perfect purchase I had made while browsing a bookstore on Haight street; a novel about a woman whose husband just decides to up and leaves her one day – a folded white box arrived at my table.
When I opened it, I was immediately taken by the striking orange colored “condiment” of nuts and seeds piled on top of the generous spread of perfectly ripened avocado. I knew that I has simply purchased a glorified avocado toast, but seeing this, I wasn’t sure exactly what I had received. Was this tartine different than what I had read about on the menu – this must be some sort of special?
Of course I snapped a few pics of it before tucking in, but with that first bite, I let out an audible “Wow”.
What had they accidentally put on my avocado toast?! And who should I thank for going off-script?
Just to make sure I hadn’t missed something, I pulled up the menu on my phone and reread it: “Salsa Seca and nutritional yeast”.
I snapped a few more pics trying to get a closeup of this concoction so that I could visually dissect it more at “home”, and I I took out my tiny Field Notes notebook and started to list everything that I could see:
- Sesame seeds – black and white
- Chili powder (korean?)
- Not spicy…
- Chili oil?
Before I knew it, my white box was empty, scraped clean with my compostable fork. It was time to saunter back across Mission and back to my friend’s apartment to take Fievel for his afternoon walk.
Later that afternoon, I posted a picture to my Instagram Stories, tagging Tartine Manufactory. They responded with a❤, and I in-turn responded to their ❤ with a “What the heck was on top of that tartine? It was amazing!”
“I know” Their Instagram angel replied, “It’s Salsa Seca.”
When my San Francisco adventure (that particular one, anyway) came to an end, and I was back at my mom’s place, I started to do a bit of research. I learned pretty quickly that the word “seca” in Spanish means “dry”. It was a “dry salsa”.
As I continued down the rabbit hole, I learned that what I had experienced was more like a “Salsa Macha”, which is a type of “Salsa Seca” from Veracruz. (click HERE for a link to Pati JInich’s post about Salsa Macha)
None of the recipes I came across online seemed to quite look like what I had eaten at Tartine, and from what I could find, Tartine hadn’t posted any of their own recipes for their Salsa Seca online.
So, it was back to my notes, and back to my flavor memory, and to the store to buy all of the nuts and seeds and dried chilis I needed to give this “Salsa Seca” a go.
The first attempt pass I made, I used dried chili de arbol. Honestly, it was really close, and tasted really good, but those chilis were way too hot for my taste, especially in the concentration that they needed to be in for this particular salsa.
Back to the store, this time for California (Anaheim) chilis, which promised to be a more mild and slightly sweeter chili. My second attempt is what you see in the video. I forgot to add paprika there, but it’s been added to the printable recipe below.
In the end, this is by no means an authentic Salsa Macha recipe, and it’s by no means an original work since I was literally trying to duplicate a dish that I ate at Tartine. The recipe below is pretty dang close to my flavor memory, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve put together here.
In terms of spice, I think my favorite iteration was when I combined the too hot version and the mild version. It had a perfect balance of savory and spicy and sweet and crunchy… perfection.
Try it on a simple avocado toast, and have your life changed forever. Or sprinkle it over roasted veggies, or generously spoon it over anything that’ll sit still long enough. Trust me, once you try this, you’ll be hooked.
Your new favorite spicy condiment. Perfect marriage of spicy chilis and toasted nuts and seeds,
- ½ cup 6 to 7 whole dried California (Anaheim) chili peppers*, stems and seeds removed
- ⅓ to ½ cup neutral oil
- ¼ cup roasted unsalted cashews, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
- ¼ cup roasted unsalted pepitas
- ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds, white and or black
- 2 tablespoons whole flax seeds
- 1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, or to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground sweet paprika
- In a food processor or blender, pulse the chilis into a rough meal – you don’t want a powder, but you don’t want large pieces. You should have about ½ cup. Set aside.
- In a bowl, combine all of the nuts and seeds and seasonings. Set aside.
- To a saucepan, add pulsed chilis and oil. Turn heat to medium and stir continuously until the oil heats, starts to sizzle the peppes, and your kitchen becomes fragrant with chili. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, toasting the chilis, but being careful not to let them burn.
- Immediately pour in the nut, seed, and seasoning mixture, and remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir until well combined.
- Let cool slightly, and then transfer to a sealable container. Your salsa seca, though it an be eaten immediately, will be best after it hangs out for about 24 hours.
- Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to a month.
*California or Anaheim chilis are a very mild chili. If you’re a fan of heat, you could add a percentage of chili de arbol to really spice things up.