Salsa is one of those foods where there’s a big difference between fresh made and store bought. I’m not sure why this is, but there’s a vibrancy to homemade salsa that’s missing from even the best brands at stores. Fortunately, it’s very cheap, quick and easy to make at home, and you’ll find you can have a lot of fun tweaking recipes to your own taste.
The basic recipe
At heart, salsa is tomatoes, chilis and onions (with cilantro optional) with salt and lime juice. But there’s no end to variations you can make with it. Roasted ingredients, like garlic or the tomatoes, will make it richer and a bit smokier, while raw ingredients keep it sharp and vibrant. It’s all good.
It does involve a fair amount of chopping, but that’s the bulk of the work and time involved. You might be tempted to resore to a food processor, but be aware they tend to pulverize the ingredients and unlock too much flavor. Unless you’re making a huge batch for a party, it’s really worth the time and energy to chop everything yourself.
- 2 cups of chopped tomatoes
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (also called coriander)
- 6 cloves of chopped garlic
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, chopped
- juice of 1/2 lime
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until they are well incorporated. The longer it sets, the stronger the flavors will become.
More ingredients and tips
- Jalapenos not spicy enough? Try habeneros, poblanos or serranos – there are many different hot peppers available.
- Can’t get fresh peppers? Canned will do. Ditto on tomatoes.
- Coarse salt tends to add more flavor than fine table salt, which could be a good or bad thing, depending what role salt plays in your recipe.
- Tomatillos, which are small relatives of the tomato, have a lemon-herb flavor that makes them very popular in salsas – particularly salsa verde.
- Chopped green onions can be delicious in many salsa recipes, in addition to or in place of white onions
- Tropical fruits like papaya, mango and pineapple add a sweet note to your salsa which can be particularly good with meats.
- Cooking (typically roasting or charring) your ingredients can add a special pop. Pan roast the vegetable ingredients before adding ingredients like salt and cilantro. You can even blacken the ingredients for a really nice smoky flavor. Let the salsa cool before serving.
- Avocado is great in salsas – just chop some up and stir it in.
- Bell peppers can replace hotter peppers to create a mild garden salsa. Spice lovers, don’t think of this as a wimpy form of salsa – it’s not to be compared to the spicy stuff. This one’s all about fullness of flavor.
- Black pepper in the form of either coarse ground peppercorn or ordinary table pepper can deepen all the other flavors and add a nice, different spice to your salsa.
- Corn, beans, celery, zucchini, cucumber and other mild vegetables give salsa interesting textures and round out the flavors. They also dilute the spice level, so be sure to compensate with more pepper, if desired
- Roasted corn, where the kernels have some brown to black markings from cooking, are fantastic in salsa. Cook them separately before adding to the salsa. They’ll have a smoky sweet flavor.
- Olive oil is a great marrying ingredient for salsas. If you feel like your recipe just isn’t quite coming together, or some of the flavors aren’t playing well with one another, just add a tablespoon or so of olive oil and stir it in.
- Lemon also works well, in addition to or in place of lime.
- Oregano can add a certain herbal zing to salsa.
- Ginger root is another unexpected ingredient that can work in salsa recipes. It adds a very different sort of spice.