Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mexican Salsas: Some Like it Hot

Here are an even half dozen recipes for some of DH's favorite salsas, including a couple you might not have heard of before. Try 'em, you'll like 'em! (You'll find a few more salsas under the recipe for Huevos Motulenos, which you can find here.)

Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after handling hot peppers (some people use rubber gloves), because you do NOT want to accidentally touch your eyes with pepper juice/oils on them. It only takes once to learn that lesson. You can trust me on that.

Also note that a lot of the fieriest heat in peppers is located in the inner "ribs"/membranes and the seeds. Remove those, and you will remove at least some of the heat from the final dish.

First on the menu: Salsa Ranchera. This flavorful salsa, also called Salsa Casera, can be made without roasting the tomatoes and chiles first, but it will taste richer if you do go through that step. It can be used for dipping, but it is most commonly used with huevos rancheros and meats such as beef and pork. An all-purpose salsa, anything you might use ketchup on is a good candidate for salsa ranchera. ;)


  • 4 large fresh ripe tomatoes, roasted until blistered
  • 5 serrano chiles (or to taste), roasted until blistered
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 of 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste) preferably sea or Kosher salt
Roast the chiles and tomatoes in a heavy skillet over medium high heat until the skins are well blistered. (*Optional: Peel the tomatoes after roasting them)

Place tomatoes, chiles and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth but not liquid. There should be a little chunkiness left in the finished product.

Saute chopped onion in a little oil until translucent but not brown. Add the ingredients from the blender into the pan with the onions (careful, it might splatter!), add water, and simmer over medium heat until reduced by half. Make sure to keep scraping the bottom of the pan; there will be flecks of charred tomato and chile skin, and that's a good thing.

Add salt to taste, let cool to room temperature, and it's ready to serve!

In Mexican cuisine, pico de gallo (Spanish for "rooster's beak") is a fresh salsa made primarily from chopped tomato, onion, and chiles (typically jalapeños or serranos). In much of Mexico this is also called salsa mexicana, because the colors red (tomato), white (onion), and green (chile) are the colors of the Mexican flag; it is also known both north and south of the border as salsa fresc­a, salsa cruda, salsa fresca, and salsa picante. Whatever you call it, this ubiquitous salsa is good with eggs, steaks, burgers, chips and everything in between.

Individual recipes commonly add other ingredients, as I do here. It is still authentic.

  • 2 1/2 cups finely chopped roma tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped fine
  • 2 to 3 finely chopped jalepeño peppers (to taste)
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
If you want this salsa slightly less fiery, remove the seeds and veins before dicing.

Mix all ingredients in bowl. Mix well. Serve immediately or refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight) to allow flavors to develop. Note that you can substitute lemon juice, but lemons are rarely used in Mexico and lime juice is better.

The following recipe is very simple and delicious. It has a dark green roasted color with tiny bits of char in it that add to the flavor. Makes 2 Cups

  • 1 pound tomatillos (husked and rinsed under warm water to remove stickiness)
  • 3 to 5 serrano or jalapeño chiles, depending on how hot you like it
  • 1 small white onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • handful of chopped cilantro
  • lime juice to taste
  • salt and pepper
Preheat broiler in oven. Lay the whole tomatillos and serranos on a broiler pan or baking sheet and place it 4 inches below the broiler. Roast until the tomatillos and peppers are softened and charred in places (the skins will split), then turn them over and roast the other side the same way. Takes around 7- 10 minutes total. Do NOT remove the black charred parts; they add flavor and eye appeal!

Alternately, you can roast them over medium high heat on the stove top, using a heavy cast iron skillet, until they are charred and soft.

Scrape the tomatillos and chiles into a blender or food processor, and let cool to room temperature, about 3 minutes. Add the other ingredients. Blend to a coarse puree. (You can add a tomato if you want to dilute the heat.)

This simple but delicious salsa (sometimes called "Cowboy Caviar") is perfect with tacos or tortilla chips, and it also works well as a salad or a topping for grilled chicken or fish. I can't swear to its authenticity as a Mexican salsa-- it's more likely to be Tex-Mex-- but it's darned good! Makes about 5 cups.

  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 11-oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeño pepper
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/3 Cup chopped fresh cilantro (or subst. 1 t dried cilantro)
  • 1/4 Cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 Cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes, squeezed)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • *optional: 1 avocado, chopped
Combine all ingredients except avocado and chips. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes or refrigerate for at least for at least two hours. Add avocado just before serving.


This salsa is great served as a dip with tortilla chips or as a side dish with fish. It's wonderful on a warm summer evening. Try it with crab cakes or grilled salmon! Makes about 8 servings.

  • 1 large mango - peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 large Roma tomato, diced
  • 1 green onion, chopped (including green tops)
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 fresh jalapeno chile pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a dish and mix well. Refrigerate overnight to enhance flavors. How could it get any easier than that?

Guacamole as served in most Mexican taqeurias is not what you'll expect if you're used to the thick, chunky Tex-Mex version. The taquerias serve a thinner type, to spoon over tacos, burritos and other foods; it is not really adequate for dipping. The Hass avocado is the best avocado for making guacamole due to its rich flavor and fine flesh. (That's the kind of avocado where its skin turns from green to purplish-black when it becomes ripe.) And guess what? The avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable! Buy avocados before they are soft, and let them ripen at room temperature for three or four days before using them.

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Cup water
Roast the jalapeno in a heavy skillet until blistered. Put the chile, charred skin and all, and the other ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and liquid. Best served at room temperature, but it refrigerates well for 2 or 3 days.

And there you have it: Six delicious Mexican salsas to tempt your tastebuds! Buen Provecho!

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