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eG Cook-Off #85: Mexican Salsa


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Street Tacos with Salsa Verde, Le Merced Market, Mexico City.jpg

 

Street Tacos with Salsa Verde, Le Merced Market, Mexico City

 

Mexican Salsa. It can be hot and numbing to the tongue, sweet or bitter, made with red tomatoes or green tomatillos, dried, roasted or fresh chiles, grilled pineapple, chopped, diced, chunky or blended smooth. Salsas can be raw or cooked, or use a combination of raw and cooked ingredients. And the style of the salsa, the heat and the flavor, should be matched to the dish you serve it with.

 

The two most common types of salsa most people think of are Salsa Roja, better known as red sauce, often mild and sweet in flavor.  Salsa Fresca usually takes the form of Pico de Gallo, which translates to "rooster's beak." Pico de Gallo is simple to make using just a few ingredients. But salsa is of course much more diverse. Some Mexican salsa recipes borrow from condiment recipes in Asia and use heady amounts of ginger.

 

Pico de Gallo is good with homemade tortilla chips, but it might not be the right choice for every dish. A fresh tomatillo and Manzano chile salsa is delicious with grilled snapper, while a grilled pineapple salsa is best with butter pound cake and crema. Matching the complexity and flavor of a salsa with the dish is akin to pairing the right wine with food. 

 

The techniques used to make a Mexican salsa also vary. The Maya made salsa by hand using a molcajete or mortar and pestle type of tool. Today, a blender or food processor makes the job go by quicker, but the mortar and pestle still has its place, as does making salsa by hand with a good kitchen knife. The comal is a flat, smooth griddle used throughout Mexico, Central and South America to cook tortillas, toast spices and sear meats.  It's also used to toast dried chiles to bring out their smoky flavor before blending them into a salsa. Comals are typically made of steel, flat or with a low outside rim.  I use both a comal or a cast-iron skillet to toast onions and garlic to add char and bring out sweetness before adding them with other ingredients and blending into a salsa.

 

Charred Onion and Garlic (1).JPG

 

Charred, toasted onion and garlic in a cast-iron skillet.

 

Let's come together in our home kitchens and present and savor our favorite Mexican Salsas. In the tradition of the eG Cook-Off Series, this is eG Cook-Off #85: Mexican Salsa.

 

See the complete eG Cook-Off Index here: https://forums.egullet.org/topic/143994-egullet-recipe-cook-off-index/

 

 

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I do my fresh salsa/pico de gallo in a manual mini chopper.  I typically use 1/3 fresh jalapeno chunks, 1/2  fresh anaheim chile chunks; 1/4 med white onion, and chop those a few pulls first.  Then add a chunked up large tomato, or a couple Romas, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, a palm full of fresh cilantro, a good dash of salt and a half lime's worth of juice.  Pull the chopper until I see the consistency I want and serve.   It's a good portion for a couple people.

 

I live in the desert SW and have struggled to make a salsa at home that I actually like.  This is the method I finally arrived at.   I will also add green onions if the mood hits occasionally.   I love cilantro, so I'm heavy on that ingredient.  Lime juice makes it though.  It ain't salsa without the fresh lime.

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8 minutes ago, lemniscate said:

I do my fresh salsa/pico de gallo in a manual mini chopper.  I typically use 1/3 fresh jalapeno chunks, 1/2  fresh anaheim chile chunks; 1/4 med white onion, and chop those a few pulls first.  Then add a chunked up large tomato, or a couple Romas, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, a palm full of fresh cilantro, a good dash of salt and a half lime's worth of juice.  Pull the chopper until I see the consistency I want and serve.   It's a good portion for a couple people.

 

I live in the desert SW and have struggled to make a salsa at home that I actually like.  This is the method I finally arrived at.   I will also add green onions if the mood hits occasionally.   I love cilantro, so I'm heavy on that ingredient.  Lime juice makes it though.  It ain't salsa without the fresh lime.

I like using the manual chopper.  I use one too, or sometimes chop my Pico de Gallo by hand.  The food processors go too fast for that style of salsa for me.  I go light on the chiles, but I too like lots of cilantro and it's growing a LOT right now in an herb pot on the patio.  I add some chives, also from the garden and growing crazy right now.  

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Sometimes I'll add charred onions and garlic to my salsa.  Depends on the salsa.  I don't add it to Pico de Gallo, but usually a blended salsa I do like a tomatillo or a roasted guajillo chile salsa.  It brings out sweetness and flavor and adds a hint of smokiness.

 

Ingredients-

1 yellow onion, cut in half, skin left on

4 cloves garlic, left unpeeled

 

Preparation-

Heat a cast iron skillet on the stove-top over medium-high heat.  Do not add oil or butter, leave the skillet dry.

 

Add the onion, flesh side down, to the skillet.  Add the unpeeled garlic cloves to the skillet. Let the onion and garlic char and get some black bits and start to soften, about 6-8 minutes, turning in the skillet a few times.

Remove the onion and garlic from the skillet. Remove the onion skin and chop or dice to use in your recipes.  Remove the skin from the garlic cloves and mince or chop.

 

You don't need to add any oil to the cast iron skillet.  Just heat it up and let the garlic and onions char.

Charred Onion and Garlic (1).JPG

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A lot of my salsa preferences come from the Mexican restaurants I frequent.  No 2 salsas are ever alike and its a fools errand to try to copy them at home.   But, I've found a couple that get near to some of my favorites.   La Parrilla Suiza is a Mexican chain restaurant with a couple locations on this side of the border.  They give a trio of salsas for the chips.  All are really good, but I really like their red salsa, which has a citrus base.   The avocado tomatillo is a winner too, people spoon it up like soup.   This page full of salsa recipes provided me with the Chile and orange juice and the Avocado tomatillo versions I can do at home, almost, but not quite like the originals.

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I am not a chunky salsa fan so use food processor. My "go to" that all the kids clamored for is simple. I also love cilantro so go heavy on it. I like a fresh taste so don't usually use comal for char. I like a mix of fresh hot chilis and a touch of chipotle en adobo. Lime - yes!  If the tomatoes  are nice I use fresh but canned is fine. I walked to the restrooms at the back of a local place and saw the cook in the kitchen making salsa. I enjoy his. I peeked in - canned tomatoes ;) My allium of choice is young green garlic which has a short season so green onions will do. 

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FRESH PINEAPPLE SALSA

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh pineapple, diced

1/2 cup red onion, diced

1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped fine

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

salt, to taste


Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.


C7CC5AD2-C92D-4A0F-9397-EE564B23B064.jpeg.56088e6336b641308efe93cc76466a2e.jpeg
Pork Carnitas Tacos with Fresh Pineapple Salsa and Salsa Verde
 
Edited by robirdstx (log)
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One of my best cookbooks for learning about chiles, techniques and salsa is Truly Mexican by Roberto Sanchez.  I think my family and friends would be shocked if they looked through the pages and saw the spills, tatters and notes I've made to some of the recipes.  I guess they think it's a picture book that should never be read and just displayed.  It's one of the best resources and has pages of salsa recipes.

Truly Mexican.jpg

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7 minutes ago, robirdstx said:

FRESH PINEAPPLE SALSA

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh pineapple, diced

1/2 cup red onion, diced

1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped fine

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

salt, to taste

Pork Carnitas Tacos with Fresh Pineapple Salsa and Salsa Verde

 

 

Thanks for that reminder. Mango alone or combined with ananas is nice too.

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Oh and because the chipotle en adobo has seasoning in it I did not mention the addition of a touch of oregano. Fresh with flowers in summer makes me happy. I tend to be cumin averse but that is a scent issue not taste. 

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2 minutes ago, heidih said:

Oh and because the chipotle en adobo has seasoning in it I did not mention the addition of a touch of oregano. Fresh with flowers in summer makes me happy. I tend to be cumin averse but that is a scent issue not taste. 

I'm so glad you mentioned oregano, I also love the fresh if it has flowers.  I use a Mexican oregano from the local Mexican market.  So much better as it's dried whole with the flower buds and is incredibly fragrant.  In fact I use it in my Italian dishes too and at the Mexican market it's very cheap.

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Here's my basic recipe for raw salsa (can hand-cut or use food processor):

 

Salt

Cumin powder (this is a key ingredient)

Lime juice

Tabasco sauce

Garlic

Onion

Jalapeño peppers

Grape tomatoes

Cilantro

 

Optional Add-Ins:

Cantaloupe (surprisingly good)

Honeydew melon (surprisingly good)

Pineapple

 

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1 hour ago, MokaPot said:

Here's my basic recipe for raw salsa (can hand-cut or use food processor):

 

Salt

Cumin powder (this is a key ingredient)

 

Lime juice

 

Tabasco sauce

 

Garlic

 

Onion

 

Jalapeño peppers

 

Grape tomatoes

 

Cilantro

 

 

Optional Add-Ins:

 

Cantaloupe (surprisingly good)

 

Honeydew melon (surprisingly good)

 

Pineapple

 

 

Thanks I also add some cumin but I never thought of honeydew or cantaloupe.  

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5 minutes ago, David Ross said:

Thanks I also add some cumin but I never thought of honeydew or cantaloupe.  

 

I think that tracks mango & pineapple

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Some of you have seen my Chipotle-Pepita Salsa over the years, but I always like telling the story of how this recipe came to be.  It was some years ago that I entered a local salsa contest.  At the time salsa wasn't really much more than Pico de Gallo where I live, and I knew I was creating something different but why not.  Well, I spent way too much time cutting the tomatoes, removing the seeds, then cutting them in uniform dice, and did the same size of dice for the onions.  What I thought was my two secret ingredients were adding pepitas, which at that time most folks had no clue what they were, even after I'd explain they were "green pumpkin seeds."  And I added a chipotle chile.  Some knew that was a smoked and dried jalapeno in a vinegary sauce, the stuff in cans, but I think they thought it went into sauce or chili not salsa.  Well I didn't win, didn't get a ribbon, and drove a long way home of course thinking what did I do.  I put it in the fridge and the next day thought, all that dicing took way too long, so I put it in the food processor and gave it a go.  I wanted to retain some chunkiness and keep the pepitas in pieces so I just pulsed it a few times.  Now I could use the disguise and call it a "blended" salsa.  Well it tasted better and the flavors all came through.  The chipotle adds heat and the pepitas add texture and a bit of herbal flavor.  Sometimes I might add honey instead of sugar depending on how acidic the tomatoes are.  Where I live the best garden tomatoes aren't until late July. I've been serving this salsa for years now. Still gets odd looks when I tell them it has "pepitas" and they ask "what is that" and then they dig in.

 

Chipotle-Pepita Salsa.JPG

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pepitas-green pumpkin seeds
  • 8-10 large Roma tomatoes, cut in quarters, then cut out the seeds
  • 1/2 large yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 canned chipotle pepper and 1 tbsp. adobo sauce
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 400. Spread the pepitas in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Toast until the pepitas start to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.  
  2. In a food processor, add the tomatoes, onions and garlic and pulse to coarsely chop. Put the tomato mixture in a large bowl, then add the minced cilantro, cumin, coriander, chili powder, chipotle, lime juice, sugar, and olive oil. Stir to combine. Roughly chop the toasted pepitas and stir into the salsa.  
  3. Serve with fresh lime wedges.
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37 minutes ago, David Ross said:

I put it in the fridge and the next day thought, all that dicing took way too long, so I put it in the food processor and gave it a go.... Well it tasted better and the flavors all came through.

 

 

As much as I hate using a food processor (hate washing it, plus I've cut myself on that blade before), it does a good job on salsa. I would guess that the processing also helped to emulsify the oils in your pumpkin seeds, plus your olive oil.

 

Even without oily ingredients, the processor somehow emulsifies even the tomatoes (in a good way). You feel more like you have a sauce, rather than just chunks of things.

 

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We prefer small batches made by hand.    Chopped tomato, sweet onion, jalapeno, cilantro, a small spoon of super hot sauce, like scotch bonnet, salt.    Pretty much taco truck salsa.    Lasts through one meal; tomorrow, start over with fresh ingredients. 

Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)
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eGullet member #80.

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This salsa was a surprise to me during our Avocado Cook-Off.  I actually went into it pretty nervous.  I had heard about pickled watermelon, and of course using avocado in some type of salsa, but this was going to be sort of a reversal by pickling the avocado and pairing it with watermelon and then some Mexican flavors.  It was pretty easy, and I just invented the steps and the recipe as I went along.  I served it with grilled salmon, then also with skillet corn cakes.  I think I preferred the skillet corn cakes more.  Next time I think I'd dice the avocado and watermelon into smaller chunks and probably try it with chips.  Or what do you think it would go with, or what type of chip or bread?  It's not a Pico de Gallo because it has a pickled as opposed fresh avocado in it, but it turned out to be a really good salsa. I think it might be good with a fish taco, although surprisingly I've never made fish tacos at home.

 

671804189_PickledAvocado.JPG.a3e638cf56aedc642f46d037791a934f.jpg

 

837894632_PanRoastedSalmon.JPG.fb166e037e15e3dd4d93c409759a67bd.jpg

 

Pickled Avocado-Watermelon Salsa-makes 3 cups

½ cup white vinegar

½ cup water

1 tbsp. Kosher salt

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. coriander seeds

1 tsp. mustard seeds

1 tsp. cumin seeds

6 fresh cilantro sprigs

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 tbsp. finely diced jalapeno

1 tsp. lime zest

2 unripe avocados

1 cup, seedless watermelon cut into small cubes

½ cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp, minced jalapeno

½ cup finely chopped cilantro

2 tbsp. fresh lime juice

2 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Combine the vinegar, salt, sugar, coriander, mustard and cumin seeds and water in a small saucepan over high heat.  Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the brine into a container.  Add the cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and lime zest to the brine.  Let the brine cool to room temperature.

 

Cut the avocados in half then remove the pit.  Peel off the skin and dice the avocado into small cubes.  When the brine is cooled add the avocado cubes. Cover the container and refrigerate the avocado overnight.  The pickled avocado will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

 

Before serving, drain the pickled avocado from the brine.  Place in a bowl and add the fresh watermelon and avocado cubes, the onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and olive oil and gently toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  The salsa should be served the same day you combine all the ingredients.

 

https://forums.egullet.org/topic/158091-eg-cook-off-81-the-avocado-finding-new-popularity-in-the-kitchen/?do=findComment&comment=2193863

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@David Ross On the avocado-watermelon salsa: (keep in mind I tend to being overly opinionated):  I thought it a bit precious when you mentioned it months ago. Perhaps because I come from running free in avocado groves. However this post today by @liamsaunt  seems like a tasty vehicle. My fish taco background is hard in Baja and I think would be both too busy and inconvenient for hand held food; even with the double tortilla style. 

https://forums.egullet.org/topic/160121-dinner-2020/?do=findComment&comment=2252967

 

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1 minute ago, heidih said:

@David Ross On the avocado-watermelon salsa: (keep in mind I tend to being overly opinionated):  I thought it a bit precious when you mentioned it months ago. Perhaps because I come from running free in avocado groves. However this post today by @liamsaunt  seems like a tasty vehicle. My fish taco background is hard in Baja and I think would be both too busy and inconvenient for hand held food; even with the double tortilla style. 

https://forums.egullet.org/topic/160121-dinner-2020/?do=findComment&comment=2252967

 

That plate is indeed really delicious looking.  I like my dishes having a good eye on them.  Up here most folks only look at avocados as something for guacamole, maybe for a salsa, usually only for a football or sporting event on TV, pretty rare right now, or in the summer.  I like salsas year-round.  

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For fresh tomato salsa I like to use roasted long green chiles, hatch, hot poblanos, whatever I can get. Having lived in NM we always had roasted chile available, freshly roasted in season, frozen out of season. I still do that reflexively instead of raw jalapeño. I make it very simply, good tomatoes, chopped and salted and let sit a bit. Then add a little minced red onion, cilantro, lime juice and the chile to taste. Great for tacos or burritos. It's a little sloppy for dipping chips, but still works. 

 

Roasted chiles also go into my guacamole, but lately I've added a few roasted mashed tomatillos to thin it out, along with the usual suspects like garlic, cilantro, lime juice, whatever. It's more tart than using all avocado, but is also useful if you have second-rate avocados.

 

I used to buy a cooked red salsa made in house by Mi Pueblo super store--they sold about four different kinds--but sadly they went out of business last year. It was delicious, and available all year round. No idea how they made it. Nothing bottled seems worth buying, at least that I've tried. 

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Katie Meadow said:

For fresh tomato salsa I like to use roasted long green chiles, hatch, hot poblanos, whatever I can get. Having lived in NM we always had roasted chile available, freshly roasted in season, frozen out of season. I still do that reflexively instead of raw jalapeño. I make it very simply, good tomatoes, chopped and salted and let sit a bit. Then add a little minced red onion, cilantro, lime juice and the chile to taste. Great for tacos or burritos. It's a little sloppy for dipping chips, but still works. 

 

Roasted chiles also go into my guacamole, but lately I've added a few roasted mashed tomatillos to thin it out, along with the usual suspects like garlic, cilantro, lime juice, whatever. It's more tart than using all avocado, but is also useful if you have second-rate avocados.

 

I used to buy a cooked red salsa made in house by Mi Pueblo super store--they sold about four different kinds--but sadly they went out of business last year. It was delicious, and available all year round. No idea how they made it. Nothing bottled seems worth buying, at least that I've tried. 

 

 

That reminds me of a question.  Every year our local Mexican grocery store and cafe has a Hatch chile roast in the parking lot.  It's an annual event and people can't wait to get their chiles.  Some friends think I'm crazy because I leave all that char on the chile before putting it my salsa.  They seem to think it's best scraped off, but I say that's scraping off flavor.  What do you think?

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10 minutes ago, Katie Meadow said:

Nothing bottled seems worth buying, at least that I've tried. 

 

 

That nails my opinion :)

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I'll play along but it's gonna have to wait until the weekend. I already had plans that involve salsa, so the timing is perfect. :D

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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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