Mexican Style Benne Seed Salsa
What is Benne Salsa?
To explain what benne seed salsa is, we first have to look at what benne is. Benne, translates to mean sesame seed, which is essentially what it is; but when folks mention Benne and don’t speak Bantu—the West African language from which it is translated—they are likely referring to an heirloom variety of sesame seed. This heirloom variety, as compared to the more commercially available sesame seeds we are used to, possesses a lower oil content and projects a more “nutty” flavor.
Benne is often used to make crackers, as a garnish, or more traditionally, to thicken soups, stews, and sauces, More recently, though, they have gained popularity as a main ingredient in several of the dishes by Chef, TV Personality, and Restraunteir, Sean Brock—including a popular Benne Salsa that appears in a Salsa Trio at his small chain of Minero restaurants.
Benne salsa is exactly what it sounds like, a salsa made using heirloom sesame seeds. The more common commercial sesame seeds can be used in a pinch, if you aren't able to source true benne.
After hearing about this unique salsa twist, we were inspired to create our own rendition of a Benne Seed Salsa. We wanted ours to have a bit more of a kick, though, so we used our habanero chile powder, which marries well with the nutty seeds and adds a slight citrusy element without actually using citrus.
For oil, we chose avocado, which incorporates notes of fresh-cut grass and really enlivens the salsa. We also used a whole avocado for more freshness and a pleasant textural component. Rather than frying or sautéing our onion and garlic in a pan, we roasted them to bring out the sweetness and add a slight smokey char. We lightly toasted our raw benne seeds to bring out a little more of that nutty flavor and, though it isn’t a traditional ingredient in either Mexican or West African cooking, we used white balsamic vinegar for our acid. Finally, we incorporated just a touch of fine ground masa and Ceylon cinnamon to add an element of sweetness.
Try this simple recipe and let us know what you think!
Spicy Benne Salsa with Habanero and Masa
Benne Salsa Ingredients
- 1 cup hulled, raw benne seeds (regular sesame seeds will work if you can’t find the heirloom variety)
- 1 small white or yellow onion, cut into 5 or 6 large pieces
- 3 large cloves of garlic
- ¼ cup masa
- 2 teaspoons dried Mexican Oregano
- 1 teaspoon fresh-ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon habanero chile powder
- 2 teaspoons Ceylon cinnamon
- 1 ripe avocado
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup avocado oil
- Salt to taste
How to Make Benne Seed Salsa
- Heat up a skillet and lightly toast your benne seeds until they turn a light, golden brown hue. Set aside.
- In a preheated oven, at 400 ℉, roast your white onion and garlic with a little bit of oil for about 20 minutes, or until the edges begin to char.
- In a food processor, mix together the onions, three quarters of the benne seeds, garlic, vinegar, masa, water, avocado, and spices. Slowly drizzle in the oil as it is all blending together.
- Add the rest of the benne seeds and lightly pulse to incorporate.
- Salt to taste and serve with warm tortilla chips, jicama fries, alongside a carne asada quesadilla, or even slathered over grilled chicken.
If you prefer a smoother salsa, add all of the benne seeds in the beginning and use a blender instead of a food processor.