Getting Saucy

Appears in the October 2021 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Over the years, Evelyn Rivera has been greeted by so many quizzical looks and dubious customers that she now views questions about her Muchacha Salsas as a badge of honor—proof she’s created a truly one-of-a-kind product. Yes, to answer the question everyone asks, her jars are really filled with Puerto Rican-style salsas, made from a complex ingredient list that includes garlic, cumin, red wine vinegar, and lemon. “Heat is not a big thing in Puerto Rican cooking,” says Rivera, “but we love really bold flavors.”

Rivera devised the recipe out of necessity. One night, feeling a salsa craving coming on, she realized she was out of the bottled stuff but had a fridge full of Puerto Rican ingredients. A few kitchen experiments later, she’d whipped up a bold, versatile salsa with a Caribbean lilt that works equally well as a marinade, base for sloppy Joes, and pasta topper. Neighbors were so impressed they pushed her to go retail. That led to guided tastings in stores, which stopped salsa traditionalists dead in their tracks. What kind of salsa is this?” they’d ask. Fortunately, bite two or three almost invariably wins everyone over, encouraging Rivera to produce new items: a spicier ghost pepper salsa and bold takes on quesos and salsa verdes. Rivera will continue to cheerily convert salsa fundamentalists during tastings at Mariano’s Naperville Block Party  (1300 S. Naper Blvd.), on October 9 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Photo courtesy Muchacha Salsa