Everything you need to know about salsa, Calling all Salsaholics

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In the world according to me - this is how it all started. In beginning there were chiles. More than 40 different kinds that I know of. Then there was salsa. More varieties of salsa than you could ever imagine.

No authentic Mexican meal is complete without salsa. You know it -- it's a spicy sauce made from fresh or canned chiles, tomatoes, onions and spices that's eaten with chips or spooned over food to liven it up. It can be mild or it can be so hot it'll blow your head off. When you visit a Mexican restaurant, you're probably served a bowl of it to scoop up with tortilla chips while you're waiting to order.

In the recipes that follow, I use several varieties of chiles. Fresh chiles can be found in markets all over the Southwest. However, in other parts of the U.S., it may be necessary to go to a Latin American market to locate some of the more exotic types. I don't use exotic chiles very often -- too much hassle. But when I do, I offer substitutions or suggest canned chiles to keep you from going crazy if you don't live in an area with a large Hispanic population. I'm not at all adverse to using prepared salsa either, and mexgrocer offers up an excellent selection of these, for those times when you just don't have the time or inclination to make your own salsas.

Rest assured, I'll tell you know how hot a salsa is before you make it. I won't pull a fast one on you that will ruin your reputation as a culinary magician for life as your guests scream out the front door, heading for Baskin-Robbins to chill out their palates. I promise. And I've spared you the infamous habanero chile, that notorious "chile from hell." However, if you're curious, you can find habanero salsa if you look hard enough and try it out. I did. I like it. But then I have -- I confess -- a cast iron palate. And fresh habanero chiles are still too hot for me! In fact, on the chile scale they are rated number 40. For comparison purposes, Jalapeños come in at number four; serranos at number six. And, unlike a leather-mouthed friend of mine, who won the Chile Eating Contest at the Hussong's Chili Cook Off in Ensenada, Baja California two years in a row (she ate 23 serranos in 3 minutes), I cannot eat a single serrano without a certain amount of distress!

Another key ingredient in salsas and many other Mexican dishes is cilantro. Cilantro is otherwise known as "Chinese parsley" or "coriander" and can be found fresh in most parts of the west. It's also available dried, or you can grow your own from coriander seeds, which are found in the spice section of any supermarket.

Go for it! Try this medley of salsa recipes. You may surprise yourself and become a salsaholic like me. I swear that salsa raises the metabolism and releases endorphins, thus burning fat while enhancing the diner's sense of well-being. How can you beat that?!

SALSA FRESCA

Every Christmas for 40 years I was invited to a construction company barbecue at my dad's office. In true Mexican fashion, the meat was cooked over grills fashioned from split oil drums and served with home-made tortillas, salsa, beans and guacamole. The chef's name was Carlos and every other day of the year he worked as a laborer, cleaning up jobsites.

He recited this recipe to me several years ago in Spanish during a Christmas party. The ingredients may be varied, depending on how hot you like your salsa. If you're unsure, experiment. If your salsa turns out too spicy, add more tomatoes. If it's too mild, add more jalapeños or yellow guero chiles. This recipe takes about 45 minutes and makes about a quart.

5 - 10 fresh jalapeño (small, green, very hot) chiles
5 - 10 fresh guero (small, yellow, very hot) chiles
2 - 5 fresh Anaheim chiles (long, green, mild)
10 - 12 medium-sized tomatoes
2 onions
4 garlic cloves
1 large bunch cilantro
1 1/2 tbsp beef bouillon powder
1 tsp lemon juice



Wash all chiles and tomatoes and remove stems. In a large Dutch oven, place chiles and tomatoes in about one inch water. Bring to boil and simmer for two to three minutes.

Remove from stove and cool for a few minutes. When you can handle the chile mixture, drain off about half the water and mince, by hand or in the food processor. Put all minced chiles and tomatoes in a large bowl. Dice onions and garlic in food processor and stir into chile mixture. Wash cilantro and cut off the longest portion of the stems. Dice remaining part of the plant in the food processor. Stir into salsa.

Add lemon juice and bouillon. Stir well. Place in quart size jars and refrigerate. Depending on quantities of chiles and tomatoes you use, this should make two to three jars of salsa. It's best if refrigerated at least 8-12 hours and will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

IN-A-PINCH CAMPSITE SALSA



This salsa is made for times when you're craving salsa, but not in the mood to leave the house. Keep the ingredients on hand, like I do and you can always make it in a pinch. My mom always kept a store of these goodies in our camper, so that on our Mexican camping trips, we could make salsa whenever the urge hit us. The recipe calls for canned tomatoes and canned chiles, which means that it's as quick as it is easy. It's also tasty and can be used in place of Salsa Fresca anytime. This recipes takes a half hour and makes about a quart.

1 1 pound, 12 ounce can Italian tomatoes, drained
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 - 8 canned jalapeños
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried cilantro (if not available, use oregano)
1 tbsp beef bouillon powder
2 tbsp American chili powder (mild)
2 tbsp lemon juice

Coarsely chop all ingredients, one at a time. Mix together in bowl. Place the salsa in a large saucepan and simmer for about 20 minutes. This makes approximately 3 cups and will keep for about 10 days in the refrigerator.

SALSA RANCHERA -- PANCHO VILLA STYLE



At Pancho's Restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, where this particular recipe originates, owners Mary and John Bragg use it as a key ingredient in their Pancho's Tortilla Soup. You can also serve it over fried eggs to make Huevos Rancheros, over Red Snapper to make Snapper Veracruzana, over cheese-stuffed green chiles to make Chile Rellenos, or just over chicken breasts or pork chops. Trust me, the mild, light and very tomato-ey taste of this salsa appeals to even the most sensitive palates. This recipe takes about 45 to 50 minutes to prepare. It makes enough for 12 servings.

4 whole green peppers, thinly sliced
8 large, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 large, white onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp dried or fresh oregano, or to taste
6 bay leaves
6 tbsp powdered chicken bouillon
4 tbsp olive oil
fresh ground black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Place peppers, onions and tomatoes in large skillet with the oil and saute until cooked. Add the seasonings and bouillon and cook about a half hour. Adjust seasonings and set aside.

SALSA VERDE



This green salsa is tangy and relatively mild. I know it may sound kind of weird to you if you're new to salsas, but you have to believe me when I tell you that it's really, really good. In fact, it's superb with pork entrees, enchiladas or virtually any dish. If you can't find canned tomatillos in your supermarket, look for Herdez Salsa Verde, Embasa Green Jalapeño Sauce or any green salsa listing tomatillos as a key ingredient. This recipe takes about an hour to prepare and makes about a quart.

3 cups canned green Mexican tomatillos, drained
1 1/2 onions
5 - 10 fresh yellow or jalapeño chiles (very hot)
5 - 8 fresh Anaheim chiles (very mild)

1 small bunch cilantro
1 tbsp chicken bouillon
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Wash all chiles and tomatatillos and remove stems. In a large Dutch oven, place chiles and tomatillos in about one inch water. Bring to boil and simmer for two to three minutes.

Remove from stove and cool for a few minutes. When you can handle the chile mixture, drain off about half the water and mince in the food processor. Put all minced chiles and tomatatillos in a large bowl.

Dice onions in food processor and stir into chile mixture. Wash cilantro and cut off the longest portion of the stems. Dice remaining part of the plant in the food processor. Stir into salsa.

Add lemon juice and bouillon. Stir well. Place in quart size jars and refrigerate. Depending on quantities of chiles you use, this should make about two jars of salsa. It's best if refrigerated at least 8-12 hours and will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

MANGO SALSA TROPICAL

My friend Marc Spahr came to Todos Santos, near the southern tip of Baja, when it was virtually undiscovered, in 1986. He came because he wanted to farm and the water there was sweet and plentiful. First thing he did was to buy a farm and plant every kind of tropical fruit tree he could get his hands on. Now he grows 20 varieties of fruits and berries, plus 12 types of bananas. Almost all the fruits he grows are used at Caffé Todos Santos, a one-of-a-kind gem of a restaurant he opened in '93.

This unusual, spicy-sweet salsa has to be made with all fresh ingredients. No canned! With its totally tropical taste, it's incredible served with Marc's equally incredible Chicken Flautas (find them in the Appetizer section). Or you can try it spooned over grilled chicken breasts, red snapper, or with carnitas. I swear, you'll think you're in the little latitudes, serving dinner under a palapa at the edge of the Pacific or the Sea of Cortez every time! The recipe takes about 45 minutes to prepare and makes about a quart.

1/2 cup mango, chopped
1/2 cup pineapple, chopped
1/4 cup papaya, chopped
2 tsp vinegar
2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup serrano chile, chopped

Mix all ingredients This should make about two jars of salsa. It's best if refrigerated at least 8-12 hours and will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

SANTA FE GREEN CHILE SALSA



This amazing sauce originated in New Mexico. Like all Mexican food, its roots are both Indian and Spanish. However, its flavors are distinctly different. Try this and you'll taste the difference for yourself. It's absolutely mouth-watering spooned over grilled chicken breasts and can be substituted wherever enchilada sauce is called for. Recipe takes 45 minutes to an hour, depending on whether you use fresh or canned chiles. Makes about a quart.

12 - 14 fresh Anaheim or canned whole green chiles
3/4 cup chicken bouillon
1 tsp oregano
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sour cream, fat-free sour cream or nonfat yogurt

Using fresh chiles: In a heavy skillet, lightly toast the chiles. Turn them constantly so they don't burn. When cool enough to handle, hold the chiles under cold water. Rinse out seeds and discard stems. Using canned chiles: Rinse and pat chiles dry, discarding any seeds or stems. (The hottest part of any chile is the seeds!)

For both types: Puree chiles in food processor. In medium saucepan, simmer chiles, oregano and garlic in bouillon for twenty minutes, or until sauce has thickened. Immediately prior to serving, add sour cream.

SALSA CHIPOTLE

This salsa is one of my favorites because of its delicious, unique, cooked-over-a-campfire smoky flavor. Chipotle chiles are dried jalapeños which are cooked and canned in adobo. They're quite hot, but with deep, almost mesquite-like flavors that remind me of colonial Mexico, when the Spanish padres traveled all over the country (and California too) building missions and converting Indians to Catholicism. These chiles can be found in California supermarkets, or in markets specializing in Mexican or Latin American foods. The sun-dried tomatoes add a definite Alta (that's upper) California flair. Try salsa chipotle over grilled turkey or chicken breasts or spoon it over red snapper while it's baking. It's also great for dipping with chips. The recipe takes less than an hour and makes about a quart.

1 1 pound 12 ounce can Italian tomatoes in puree
2 tomatoes
8 sun dried tomatoes, boiled in 1/2 cup water until soft
1 onion, quartered
2 - 8 chipotle chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp distilled vinegar

Core fresh tomatoes and cut into large pieces. Place with Italian tomatoes, onion, chipotles and garlic into food processor. Process until coarsely pureed.

Place the salsa mixture in a medium size saucepan along with oregano, cinnamon and vinegar. Simmer for 15 minutes. Store in quart jars for up to a week. Flavor actually improves after a day or two. This makes about 3 cups.

Try HERDEZ Salsa Chipotle we really recommended it Salsa Chipotle.

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Recipe and tips provided by Ann Hazard.





Join author Ann Hazard, as she leads you through four generations of historic Baja culinary adventure. She shares not only her family's favorite travel tales, but also the delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes she has collected and created. By the time you've cooked a meal or two and finished reading the book, you're guaranteed a lasting dose of Baja Magic. The book may even turn your perspective slightly to the South, lighten your heart and forever transform your outlook on life!






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