A Mexican Chili Oil?! What gives?

  • by Keertida Phadke

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

Salsa Macha chillies

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. 

And voilá, we present to you the first bottled Salsa Macha in India.

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,

Keertida

 

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