A Mexican Chili Oil?! What gives?
Hi, I’m Keertida Phadke and I’m one of the co-founders of better. Since a lot of you have been curious about our foray into the condiments space, I thought this would be a great opportunity to talk about why we’ve come up with Salsa Macha, a chili oil that has very little to do with plant based food.
During lockdown last year, we cooked for comfort. But also for a change, while being confined. And for the thrill of discovery, with experiences from eating out to traveling being indefinitely on hold. We sourdough-ed and sanitized. Brewed some tepache while doing our best to 'break the chain'. Made some frothed coffee to go with banana bread.
After running through the above Covid-clichés, I centered on condiments. That’s evident from my feed, (@keertidacooks) where 3 of the last 6 posts feature a chutney/ podi/ dip.
Salsa Macha was just supposed to be a regular new condiment recipe trial. Except, my interest had been piqued given NYT had just declared it ‘the most valuable condiment of 2020’. Despite having traveled to Mexico, I had no recollection of this supposed superstar salsa. What had I missed?
I began researching, everything from the NYT recipe to Pati Jinich, from blogs in Spanish to a tío on YouTube talking animatedly about the pleasures of said salsa.
I learnt that there were 4 non-negotiables for the salsa: chili, garlic, peanuts and oil. And the nuance is in the chilies. Most recipes had a blend of 2-3 chilies, typically ancho and árbol, with the occasional addition of morita/ guajillo/ pasilla. Now, Mexico is the ground zero for chilies, so the nuance is a given.
Instead of doing the easy (albeit expensive) thing of buying imported Mexican chilies, I looked into the flavour & heat profiles of the chilies to see what I could best approximate locally. Ancho is smoky and mild, clocking just 1000-2000 on the Scoville scale (SHU). Árbol on the other hand is fiery, with the heat reading touching upto 30,000 SHU, and has a vibrant red colour even after drying. Morita chilies are fruity and fragrant, with moderate heat (5,000-10,000 SHU) while both Pasilla and Guajillo chilies are fruity and mild (upto 2000 SHU).
After geeking out on chilies, I found these local feisty four to best work for Salsa Macha
Kashmiri chili being the mildest of the lot, is the desi Ancho and lends a subtle smokiness & a distinct deep colour
Guntur provides heat, landing anywhere from 35,000-40,000 SHU and approximates the Mexican árbol
Mathania chilies from Jodhpur have a vivid red colour and yield a fruity flavour
Bedgi chilies are aromatic, with moderate heat and a rich hue
At the time it was nothing more than a lockdown experiment, so I tried it out with our locally sourced appropriations of the Mexican chilis and dios mío, it worked, and how! Look at that deep red color and that glistening texture.
I was hooked. I wanted to have the Salsa Macha with every meal. Actually, scratch that. I WAS having the Salsa Macha with every meal.
With my rotis based tacos.
With my rice.
With my curd rice as well. I mean, why not?
I was addicted. As a cofounder of a food brand, it would be a colossal waste of my platform to not introduce this product out into the world. The major challenge yet lay in front of us though - making something in your kitchen, and then trying to replicate that in a factory is BY FAR the hardest part of food production. So between lockdowns 1 and 2, we managed to do a bunch of trials to get just that perfect colour, texture, glint and heat levels.
Salsa Macha is not meant to be fiery hot. It’s a chili oil where flavour > heat. Other than the four chilies, there’s fried garlic and caramelised shallots + toasty peanuts & nutty sesame seeds that provide SO much depth of flavour.
Get a jar, and put it on everything. Maybe not ice-cream. Or maybe? Either way, would love to hear back from you on how you used it!
Until next time,