Empellon’s Smoked Cashew Salsa
Ohhh the smoked cashew salsa… so good. I actually tried my friend Brenda‘s version (recipe below) before trying the original version at Empellon Cocina in New York. Little did I know her recipe was inspired by Empellon’s smoked cashew salsa. To be honest, I liked hers even better. It’s almost the exact same recipe, but she uses less water and salt, yet it was salty enough. Using less water allowed for a much thicker, creamier and viscous consistency (duh!). The flavour was stronger and it was a notch thinner than Greek yogurt whereas the restaurant version was thin like low-fat yogurt (neither recipe has yogurt, just using it as a reference for texture).
This Cashew Salsa is a very versatile rich and buttery dip and the love child of cashew-peanut butter meets chipotle yogurt. It has a cream cheese-like quality to it, but it’s dairy free. It’s one of those dips you dunk your chips in so it’s almost double the dip to chip.
The idea is similar to a Cashew Queso, which is popular for raw/vegan/dairy-free diets. Cashews and nuts are common substitutions for raw/vegan/dairy-free cheese-making, so this concept was along the same lines. The salsa is not marketed this way, but the recipes relate.
The following guest post is by Brenda.
Vacations are planned around my stomach and one of my favourite ways of re-living the memories is to recreate dishes from the trips. Last fall I visited New York city for the first time and Empellon Taqueria was high on my list. It happened to be one of the first restaurants I ate at and in the span of a nearly two week long trip, this was one of the most memorable things I tasted. In fact, I was already Googling for the recipe while I was still sitting in the restaurant. Thankfully Chef Alex Stupak has generously posted the much-requested recipe online and I made as one of of the snacks for the mole dinner party.
The salsa is smoky, nutty, spicy, tangy, salty and sweet with an intense savoury flavour. I find it incredibly delicious and it’s hard to stop eating, especially when eaten with good quality crispy tortilla chips.
When I read the recipe, I was surprised to see that the salsa consisted of only five ingredients and one of those was water. The instructions call for cold smoking the cashew nuts but if you’ve never smoked something before and prefer not to, I would still encourage you to try the recipe since the chipotle chiles in adobo sauce will still contribute some smoky flavour to the salsa. Other than smoking the cashews, the rest of the recipe only calls for placing all of the ingredients into a blender and pureeing them until smooth. Incredibly easy with a big flavour payoff.
At Empellon, the salsa is served with corn tortilla chips but it’s a very versatile condiment and would work well with crackers or bread, as a marinade or sauce for meats (think Thai peanut sauce), or as a nutty component in salad dressings, curries, and soups.
Empellon’s Smoked Cashew Salsa
– adapted from Alex Stupak’s recipe
Makes ~1 ½ cups
- 5 ounces roasted cashews
- 1 handful of wood chips for smoking (preferably applewood, but use whatever is convenient)
- 8 ounces cold water (I prefer 4-5)
- 2 whole chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (from a can)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
Notes for success
- The cashew salsa can be made ahead for up to a week. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Canned chipotle chiles in adobe sauce come in a small tin. The recipe only calls for two chiles but the remainder can be frozen in an airtight container or in freezer bag for another use. They would be excellent in a meat or vegetarian chili or in a tomato sauce.
- The consistency of Empellon’s salsa is like a thick but pourable sauce. My preference is for a thicker consistency, like sour cream. Hold back some of the water based on your own preference.
- The original recipe instructions are to make an indoor smoker using a heavy duty dutch oven but the cashews can also be smoked in an outdoor grill at a very low temperature. If smoking indoors, be sure to have the dutch oven in a well ventilated area.
- The cashews may need a longer smoking time than the recipe instructions state. Taste a cashew after 20 minutes of smoking – the smoke should be noticeably detectable. Smoke for additional time if needed.
- For a spicier salsa, blend the two chipotles whole without removing the veins and seeds.
Soak the wood chips in water for 20 minutes and drain.
Place a deep cast iron dutch oven over a burner and place your wood chips in a pile in the center of it.
Place your cashews in a colander (or steamer basket) small enough to fit inside your dutch oven, and place the whole colander in the dutch oven. The nuts should be elevated above the wood chips.
Turn the burner on medium heat and keep an eye on it until you see a wisp of smoke. Place a lid on the dutch oven and smoke the cashews for 20 minutes.
Remove the cashews from the dutch oven. Pour water over the wood chips to make sure they aren’t smoldering any longer.
Place the cashews in a high powered blender such as a VitaMix (or a food processor) along with the water. (Hold back some of the water if you prefer a thicker consistency.)
Cut the chipotles in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and veins. Add the chipotle flesh to the blender along with the salt and sugar.
Purée the salsa until very smooth, scraping down the blender as needed. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt if desired.
Store the salsa in an airtight container under refrigeration. It will keep well for at least a week.
Serve the salsa with crispy corn tortilla chips.
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