Cauliflower-Corn Tostadas with Salsa Macha

The coastal Mexican condiment lends this crunchy starter a rich and spicy bite.

  • Serves

    2½ cups

  • Cook

    1 hour


By Fatima Khawaja

Published on August 15, 2022

Welcome to SAVEUR’s column on how to cook local produce according to our test kitchen manager, Fatima Khawaja. This is where you’ll find creative, unfussy meal ideas plus plenty of cooking advice—like what to do with that bumper crop of zucchini or how to store delicate heirloom tomatoes. Every other week, Fatima hits the farmers market and chooses a peak-season ingredient to explore in depth. Follow along, and you’ll learn how to turn the season’s bounty into easy plant-based meals that’ll be on the table in under an hour.

Dark and nutty with warm spice, salsa macha is part oil, part chiles, nuts, and seeds. If you like the hot, garlicky punch of chili crisp, you won’t be able to get enough of Mexico’s sauce hailing from Veracruz and Oaxaca. Salsa macha gets its earthy flavor from guajillo chiles and smoky notes from moritas, and just a spoonful adds texture and layered heat to everything it touches.

In my time as a line cook at the popular Mexican restaurant Cosme in New York City, I would spoon salsa macha over every order of tlayudas. That’s where I first encountered the sauce—surrounded by corn and chiles, scrambling to get through the restaurant's notoriously frenetic dinner rush. I loved it so much that I would hide some in my lowboy (a refrigerator under a workstation) to secretly drizzle over the day’s staff meal. 

Traveling around Mexico this summer, I was reminded of my love for the coastal condiment. At brunch one morning at Paradero Hotel in Todos Santos, visiting chef Daniel Burns showed up with a charred shrimp tostada topped generously with salsa macha. Suddenly, I was right back at Cosme, measuring and deseeding the chiles and blending the salsa to its pleasantly coarse consistency. But something was different—whereas peanuts were blended into the sauce at Cosme, here, I learned, cashews were thrown into the mix along with sesame seeds and guajillo chiles. And that's the beauty of salsa macha: It’s endlessly adaptable.

Back in New York, I kept up the momentum. This week, when I saw colorful heads of cauliflower popping up at the farmers market (they’ll be around through late fall in these parts), it struck me that the vegetable could make a perfect companion to salsa macha. Roasted with sweet summery corn, piled on a crispy tostada, and doused in the peppery mixture, cauliflower-macha tostadas are now a staple in my kitchen. Honestly, though? They’re just a vessel for me to eat more of my favorite salsa.

If cauliflower isn’t for you, or if you have leftover salsa macha, try it on brothy noodles, eggs, or even roast chicken.


  • 2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil, or vegetable oil, divided
  • Eight 6-in. corn tortillas, warmed
  • 6 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 4 dried árbol chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 4 dried morita chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 dried guajillo chile, stemmed and seeded
  • ¾ cup raw cashews (3¾ oz.)
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup white sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more
  • 4 ears of corn (2 lb.), shucked
  • 1 small head of cauliflower or romanesco (about 1½ lb.), cored and cut into 1-in. florets
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Step 1

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400ºF. To a medium pot set over medium-high heat, add 2 cups of the oil. When it’s shimmering and hot, one by one fry the tortillas, using tongs to turn once, until crisp and lightly browned, about 2 minutes each. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Step 2

Make the salsa: In the same oil, working in batches, fry the chiles, turning frequently, until fragrant and darkened slightly, 3–4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate.

Step 3

Turn the heat to medium-low and add the cashews and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 3–4 minutes. Remove from the heat, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to the plate with the chiles. Set the oil aside until cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes.

Step 4

To a blender, add the chiles (using your hands to crumble them slightly), reserved cashews and garlic, the sesame seeds, vinegar, and reserved oil and pulse until coarse (the sesame seeds should mostly remain whole). Season with salt and additional vinegar, if desired.

Step 5

Make the tostadas: Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. With the corn lying flat on a cutting board, slice off the kernels and transfer to the baking sheet, discarding the cobs. Add the cauliflower, the remaining oil, the salt, and black pepper and toss to combine. Spread the mixture in an even layer, then bake, turning halfway through cooking, until the cauliflower is deep golden brown and beginning to soften, about 25 minutes.

Step 6

To serve, arrange the tostadas on a serving platter, then mound evenly with the cauliflower mixture. Drizzle each with 1–2 teaspoons of salsa macha. (The sauce will keep at room temperature for at least 2 weeks; stir well before serving.)

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