Everybody Loves Salsa

Thank you, Gord, for requesting a recipe for salsa, the number one condiment in America (and we thought it is ketchup!).  The word Salsa can refer to any fresh or cooked ‘sauce’ as well as an exhilarating Latin dance of Afro-Cuban origin, both of which contain hot and spicy elements. Most often the term is synonymous with a combination of just a few, but importantly, fresh chopped ingredients, including red-ripe Roma or plum tomatoes, white onions, spicy chilies, lime juice, garlic, and cilantro.

The beauty of salsa comes from its vivacious taste and texture, something that is lost in translation to the jarred form.  Other differences include the use of vinegar instead of lime juice and a soupier consistency in the jar salsa.  Fresh salsa is quick to make and is far superior to the processed version although the latter has its place. Jarred salsa has a shelf life of 6 months to a year and once opened about 30 days in the refrigerator.  Fresh salsas last about 7 days refrigerated, which in my house is 6 days longer than necessary.

Simple Salsa Ingredients: lime, tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, garlic, cilantro, and seasonings

A short-cut version for making salsa involves a food processor and canned, whole tomatoes, a fair stand-in for when fresh tomatoes are pale and long out of peak season.  For that method, canned tomatoes with their juice go in first and are briefly processed.  Roughly chopped onions and stemmed, seeded jalapeno follow (to taste) with a few short pulses of the processor, then cilantro is added along with lime juice and garlic. At this point continue to pulse until the texture you desire is reached, check for flavor and add salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar (if needed).  Some will add various colors of bell peppers for a milder and more colorful presentation, use purple onions instead of white onions, and vary the heat by returning some seeds of the chilies to the mix or adding a combination of chilies (dried and fresh).

Following is a basic hand-made fresh salsa with a few ideas on its many uses.  For more recipes, refer to the undisputed authority on authentic Mexican cooking, Chef Rick Bayless and his many magnificent books or his website.  My slightly milder variation on his Salsa Mexicana is below:

Fresh Salsa

Serves:  4 – 6; Equipment: Cutting board, mixing bowl, knife, strainer, measuring spoons

½ medium white onion, diced (about ¼” pieces), rinsed in cool water and drained

4 – 5 plum or Roma tomatoes, diced

½ small stemmed, seeded chili, minced (ex: Jalapeno or Serrano)*

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, stems removed

Juice of a fresh lime

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch of sugar, and freshly cracked pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and season to taste (watch the salt if using tortilla chips). Chill for at least an hour or more to harmonize flavors.

OTHER USES:

  • Make a shrimp cocktail with the addition of sauteed shrimp and scallops as pictured above
  • Combine salsa with fresh avocado for a chunky guacamole
  • Add salsa to burritos, quesadillas, black beans or pinto beans
  • Use as a topping for fish or grilled meats
  • Puree salsa with some fresh celery and a dash of Worcestershire (thinned if needed with tomato juice) for a Bloody Mary
  • Make it fruity with the addition of chopped fresh mango, papaya, or pineapple
  • Use roasted chilies for a smokey essence
  • And a personal favorite, add some diced cucumber a little tomato juice, and call it an Americanized version of gazpacho (topped with a dollop of sour cream).

* Note that the chilies come in many sizes, and the one in the upper picture was the smallest on hand. I used about a quarter of it although I’m a bit of a panzy when it comes to the hot stuff.

Enthusiasts will enjoy learning about how the heat of chilies is measured by visiting ‘Eat More Chiles”. Both the chili membrane and seeds contain the heat but the membrane is more concentrated. The bottom line is let your taste buds be the judge. Chilies are subject to nature’s whims and will vary by weather and season, so use a little bit at a time, taste, then add more if needed (and don’t rub your eyes after handling them!).

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Gord on April 26, 2012 at 6:38 am

    Awesome Joy, and Thanks!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Deb G on April 26, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Okay it’s 6:30 in the morning and I have not had any breakfast yet and I’m craving salsa and chips 🙂 This looks amazing Joy and your photos of the ingredients and end result are beautiful so fresh and colorful which is what salsa is all about. Your recipe looks great although I’m one of those hotties that will probably go for broke on that jalapeno or two 😉 ! I do use salsa to make my guacamole and highly recomment doing so, much simpler than chopping more “stuff”. Thanks for sharing again….Deb

    Reply

  3. WOW, Deb, that’s quite an endorsement! It was a treat eating the props after the photo shoot. 🙂 I sauteed the shrimp and scallops in garlic butter with a pinch of low sodium Old Bay Seasoning. It was absolutely delicious and a very healthy meal, with some sliced avocado on the side. Yum!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Lois Szydlowski on April 26, 2012 at 10:37 am

    This looks fantastic Joy….Love the shrimp cocktail—looks so delicious…I have shrimp in my freezer…think I will have to do this…I like things a little spicier, so sometimes I add a bit of chopped canned Chipotle peppers to my salsa that gives it a smokey flavor as well as adding some heat….Thanks Joy!

    Reply

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Lois – chipotle peppers would be a delicious addition! I love the flavor but some times just the sauce around the peppers is enough for me. 🙂 Thinking of chipotles reminds me of how I used to gulp water when something is too spicy…I learned that milk (or dairy) is a good neutralizer. Turns out that the lactic acid in dairy and the capsaicin in peppers both compete for the same taste receptors on the tongue. So milk, sour cream, yogurt are good for cutting the heat from a too-spicy salsa. Thank heavens there’s a remedy!

      Reply

  5. Posted by Linda on April 30, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Just made this recipe for the first time. I put everything in the food processor rather than doing a lot of chopping. Worked just fine and saved me time. We spooned it over some cooked chicken and it was yummy! Linda

    Reply

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