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When poet and recipe developer Andrea Aliseda started unraveling the history of her great-grandma's Guillermina's storied salsa, she was surprised to find two very different recipes — depending on who she asked.
Until then, Andrea hadn't inherited lots of recipes from her family. In fact, "the only one I know of is this salsa," she wrote when she shared this recipe on Epicurious earlier this year. And it had only arrived in her life recently, when her mom started making it to sell to friends at the elementary school where she works in San Diego.
Intrigued by the heat-taming powers of an uncommon swirl of peanut butter, Andrea traced its roots as far back as she could: First, to the version her mom Alejandra had learned from Guillermina shortly after marrying into the family. Then, to the one kept by her great-aunt Rosalinda, as Guillermina was no longer alive to tell her more.
The two recipes shared only a foundation: serrano chiles, onions, and garlic fried in rough chunks, blended with some of the heat-stoked oil they'd sizzled in, plus bouillon for a rounded salty oomph.
But the older version of Guillermina's recipe kept by Rosalinda had a lot more garlic, and left the salsa chunky, like guacamole, where her mom's was always blended smooth. And the signature ingredient was missing: "So it says chile serrano, onion, olive oil, little bit of bouillon..." Andrea read, fact-checking in her mom's old recipe notebook on this week's episode of The Genius Recipe Tapes. "Yeah, there is no peanut butter!"
The version Andrea makes now is really a third Salsa Guille. She added back some of Guillermina's garlicky heft. And while her mom's peanut butter tempers the fire of the serranos, Andrea goes even further, scraping out the seeds and ribs to taste more of the grassiness, with less of the heat. This is fully customizable — Andrea's mom will ultimately win out when they make it together. "I would probably just do little dots on each bite."
Guillermina served hers with meaty dishes like carne asada. Andrea's mom likes to scoop it up on baguettes and slices of sourdough. Andrea spoons it on crispy mushroom tacos, sandwiches, and tofu scrambles. I've asked it to uplift many a roasted vegetable-grain jumble. There's little it wouldn't improve, and in the fridge it keeps well for as long as two weeks. The leftover serrano-spiced oil can replace any oil in pan-fries and salad dressings to joyous effect.
This recipe has changed what I want in a salsa, and what I'll make to thrill anyone I'm feeding. But best of all, it shows the promise of following family recipes back through every thread and splinter. Everyone it's touched will have something more to tell you.
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
- 2 cups avocado oil or grapeseed oil
- 1 medium white onion, quartered through stem end, peeled, and layers separated
- 12 to 14 garlic cloves, smashed
- 8 serrano chiles, halved lengthwise, seeds and ribs removed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted, sugar-free creamy peanut butter
- 1 teaspoon vegetable bouillon concentrate (preferably Better Than Bouillon)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
- Chopped salted, dry-roasted peanuts, for serving (optional)
- In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over high. When the oil is shimmering, carefully dip the edge of a piece of onion in — if it sizzles, it's hot enough; carefully add the onion, garlic, and chiles. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, chiles are blistered, and garlic is golden around the edges, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the vegetables into a blender or food processor and let cool for 10 minutes.
- Add the peanut butter, bouillon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the blender and purée. Remove the small inset lid from top and, with the machine on the lowest setting, slowly pour in enough of the cooking oil to make it creamy and scoopable (this could take up to 1 cup, but feel free to stop when it reaches the consistency you're like). Blend until the salsa is velvety and emulsified. Taste the salsa and season with more salt if needed.
- Transfer to a small bowl and top with peanuts just before serving.
- To make ahead: The salsa (without the peanut topping) can be made 2 weeks ahead. Cover tightly and chill.