Cauliflower-Corn Tostadas with Salsa Macha
The coastal Mexican condiment lends this crunchy starter a rich and spicy bite.
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