Chile Pepita Crunch Is the Secret-Weapon Condiment One Texas Chef Swears By
Chef John Brand of Hotel Emma in San Antonio shares his take on the versatile relish-style dish
To survive the dry days of Prohibition, Emma Koehler of San Antonio’s Pearly Brewery had to pivot to soft drinks, ice cream, dry cleaning and auto repairs. Nearly a century later, the hotel that bears her name similarly expanded their operations, offering the Emma’s Provisions line in order to stay in the black during the pandemic.
Brand, who crafts all of the provisions in-house with his team, came up with his take on the crunchy, relish-style condiment after encountering a much saucier version that was more akin to salsa during a trip to Mexico.
“I’ve been to Mexico dozens of times, but I had never seen anything like it,” he tells InsideHook. “It was a table condiment for chips with a green and red salsa right next to it. On the table, it was the only condiment that didn’t have an acid kick. It was very wet and I thought there were better applications if I took the sauce part out of it. I took out some of the oil and adjusted the ratio to make it work for us up here. It definitely took a couple of months to nail it down, but the recipe is set now. Once we got it locked in, the recipe has been consistent ever since.”
A blend of pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, sesame seeds, roasted garlic, sunflower oil and morita chiles, Brand’s creation first appeared on the menu at the hotel alongside avocado toast and poached eggs, but has since been served as an accompaniment to foods ranging from ice cream to fish.
“It’s really good on a lot of things,” Brand says. “The texture makes it stand out. You can use a little or a lot and you’re not going to overdo it. It has a great mouthfeel to it with just a touch of heat. The morita chile is a touch more floral than some other chiles and isn’t whipping hot. I believe it is much more palatable. I don’t know what kind of chile was in it when I had it in Mexico, but it was about as spicy as ours is. We kept an eye on that so it could be used in a variety of different applications. People absolutely love it. I can say it’s a daily staple around here.”
Though the moritas provide subtle heat and also nod to the hotel’s cultural heritage of being so close to Mexico, it’s the toasted pumpkin seeds that really hold the versatile condiment together.
“Toasted pumpkin seeds are different and a bit more palatable than the raw ones you can get in a trail mix,” Brand says. “Toasting them really makes them pop up. The shell becomes a little thinner. It’s a crunch that lasts even if you put it in the fridge. It plays a great partner to something that’s already creamy and is going to bring a meatiness to a dish that wouldn’t necessarily have it. It fits in somewhere between mustard and salsa. A little bit is great on a lot of things without being overpowering. It’s just that missing link to complete a dish. Like salt or mustard, it’s not something I want to run out of in my home kitchen. I wouldn’t want to be without it.”
To get a taste of Southern Texas wherever you are, here’s a simplified version of Brand’s recipe.
Chef John Brand’s Chile Pepita Crunch
- 2 cups (278 grams) toasted pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup (32 grams) toasted sesame seed
- ¼ cup (32 grams) toasted hemp hearts
- ½ cup sunflower seed or avocado oil
- 7 large cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp of ground Morita Chile powder
- Salt to taste
- Heat oil with crushed garlic cloves until the garlic is golden brown.
- Remove from heat and allow it to cool at room temperature.
- Remove the garlic cloves from the oil and discard.
- In a metal bowl, add the remaining ingredients with the warm oil and mix well. Be careful — the oil will be hot.
- Taste and adjust with salt if necessary.
- Reserve and store in a cooler.
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