For Chef Danny Mena, the taste of the Mexican food he cooks at his restaurant La Lonchería, located in the heart of Bushwick, Brooklyn, is only one element of the entire experience a customer will have when dining at his establishment. Mena also likes to consider the authenticity of the ingredients, especially in salsa macha, and the company who joins in for the meal.
In ours and RITZ Crackers’ recipe series Savory Roots, the diversity of Latin American sauces is explored in a unique and flavorful way.
At La Lonchería, the first Mexican lonchería in New York City, Mena, who is a co-founder of the restaurant, enjoys experimenting with flavors and dishes to create the best rustic Mexican food outside of Mexico. He prides himself in making his ingredients in house, carefully choosing each one for his recipes.
“If you ask any Mexican, ‘What is the best food in the world?’ They’re always gonna say it’s Mexican food,” Mena said.
When serving an appetizer like salsa macha for an intimate get-together or big family celebration, it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment. Paired with a piece of fresh white cheese of one’s choice and RITZ Crackers, the dry chili sauce, which dates back to pre-Hispanic times, salsa macha is a perfect way to welcome people to the table to start a memorable meal.
Mena wants everyone to learn how to make salsa macha, a sauce he considers to have “a really important part in my heart” and “something that’s important in Mexican culture.”
Luckily, if it’s Mena teaching a class on how to make salsa macha, the journey to get to a delicious end result will feel effortless. All you need are a few ingredients to take a unique culinary journey through Mexico. Mena uses Chile Morita, Chile Guajillo, Chile Ancho, oregano, sesame seeds, vegetable oil, garlic, salt, sugar, apple cider vinegar, and, of course, RITZ Crackers.
First, Mena toasts the chiles together at 300 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven for six minutes. At the same temperature, he also toasts the garlic for 12 minutes and toasts the sesame seeds for 25 minutes. Mena then adds all ingredients into a 22-quart container using the immersion blender, and then places the finished product in an appropriate container to refrigerate until it’s time to pair with RITZ Crackers and eat with family and friends.
If you’ve never heard of salsa macha, the name of the traditional sauce translates to “brave salsa,” presumably because a person might need to find some extra courage to eat salsa that is prepared with the spicy tones that salsa macha brings to the table.
“Salsa in Mexico, everybody has their own recipe,” Mena said. “Everybody has their own way of doing it. Mexican food really is a combination of all the influences of Mexico.”
The origins of salsa macha go back to ancient civilizations like the Olmec, Totonac and Huasteca people and how they prepared it. Currently, there are about 200 varieties of the sauce and all of them are defined by the state and location where their chilies come from.
“For me, [salsa macha] was one of the sauces that educated me about the diversity of Mexican cuisine,” Mena said. “And while it resembles Chinese oil-based sauces, when you taste it, it’s uniquely Mexican. The culinary variety of Mexico is immense. I am realizing more and more that there is a lot to learn about Mexican food.”
Not only is salsa macha significant for Mena from a cultural perspective, but it’s also a sauce that can be served on RITZ Crackers before a meal to establish a receptive nature to guests.
“It’s an inviting, welcoming thing,” he said. “You come in and you immediately start noshing. It breaks the ice and starts the ritual of what [a] ‘nice meal out’ is. The whole point is that convivial time with your family and friends. To me, that’s the best part of eating out and enjoying it.”
Below is the recipe and step-by-step instructions to make Mena’s salsa macha:
- 2 ounces of chiles Morita (weighed before stems removed)
- 2 ounces of chiles Guajillo (weighed before stems removed)
- 9 ounces of chiles Ancho (weighed before stems removed)
- 0.50 ounces of oregano
- 12 ounces of sesame seeds
- 1.2 quarts of vegetable oil
- 2 peeled pieces of garlic, toasted
- 1/2 cup of salt
- 1.20 ounces of sugar
- 9 ounces of apple cider vinegar
- RITZ Crackers
- Toast chiles together at 300 degrees F in the oven for six minutes.
- Toast garlic at 300 degrees F in the oven for 12 minutes.
- Toast sesame seeds at 300 degrees F in the oven for 25 minutes.
- Add all ingredients into a 22-quart container using the immersion blender.
- Blend on medium speed for two minutes until the chiles and oil are well incorporated, and the pieces are about the size of a panko breadcrumbs – fine, but not too fine – to maintain texture.
- Place in an appropriate container, label, and refrigerate.
- Pair the RITZ cracker with cheese as a snack before lunch time, to whet your appetite and sharpen one’s desire for food.