Salsa is a delicious condiment for Mexican food known as a sauce or dip that dates back to the ancient Aztecs, Mayas and Incas. These civilizations made a special sauce using the freshest ingredients they had at hand like chilies, tomatoes and spices as a base. The best salsas in Mexico are still made today using these ingredients. The spiciness and flavors of these fresh salsas varied on where the chiles and tomatoes used were grown, what types of hot peppers where used and in what the region they were made at.
It is believed that salsa was eaten or enjoyed back then with all kinds of dishes just like we do today. The combination of Tomatoes, chilies and other spices known as Salsa can be traced back to the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas. After the conquest of Mexico in 1519-1521, the Spanish conquistadors came upon Tomatoes, which they learned were the main ingredient in a delectable sauce from the Aztecs. Locally grown Tomatl (Aztec name for tomatoes), chiles and other ingredients like squash seeds and beans were used by Aztecs to make an exquisite sauce that Aztec lords used to accompany fish and turkey meals as well as serve it on venison, deer, local small game meats and lobster. This delicious combination was later called “Salsa” by Alonso de Molina in 1571.
To make salsas the Aztecs and Mayans used the molcajete to grind and mash the tomatoes, chiles and spices. Today the molcajete is still used to make salsas and guacamole, every Mexican kitchen and restaurant has a molcajete. The art of making salsa has been handed down from generation to generation, to enhance the taste and flavor of salads, beans, meats and rice.
The Spanish found these sauces in the Aztec market places and the recipes to make those salsas in the 1500s in the New World. Salsa, Spanish for sauce, is a condiment that is often pureed until smooth, chopped or chunky. It can be raw or cooked. The Aztecs had ingredients at their disposal that were used in the past to make salsas and are found in the modern salsa, like tomatillo, avocados, red tomatos and Chipotle, ingredients that back then were unknown to the Europeans.
Salsa is a staple food in Mexico as well as a very significant expression of culture; it is around salsas that the Mexican cooking is built. The base, support and foundation of the Mexican salsa are gathered from the vehement, and vigorous, sensual and subtle flavors of the chile. Mexico has a very impressive variation of chiles: jalapeno, chipotle, habanero, arbol, poblano to name a few; which get their names from different regions of Mexico in which they are grown, and at the same time they have different names whether they are fresh or dried.
A very popular misconception is that Mexican salsa, because it has chile as one if its main ingredients, its unbearably hot. It’s not true, a true salsa lover will never allow the salsa overpower the taste of food. There has to be a balance between the spiciness and flavor so that the delights of a salsa can be fully enjoyed.
Basic ingredients in Mexican salsas include chilies, seasonings, tomatillos, Jitomates or red tomatoes, onions, garlic, sweet bell peppers and cilantro or Chinese parsley are ingredients used in many salsa recipes. The typical “Salsa Verde” (green sauce) is made with tomatillos as they are known in Mexico. You can make salsa with many types of chiles, and each one gives the salsa a slightly different flavor and heat. The possibilities of making salsa are endless, corn, seeds, herbs, lime juice, nuts as sesame, beans, vinegar, smoked peppers, pecans, fruit, almonds, or nopales are some ingredients that you can use in your salsa recipe along the basic ones. Guacamole and mole can be counted as salsas, because they are sauces, and salsa is a sauce. Salsa brings life to any dull and plain dish, that’s why is very rare to find any Mexican food without salsa, which is made with the basic ingredients: Onions, chile, tomatoes and garlic are used.
Salsa can be considered the platform between two textures and flavors, like a quesadilla it consists of melted cheese in either flour or corn tortilla. You can eat as is, but adding salsa to a quesadilla takes its flavor to a whole new level, it adds flavor and a beautiful splash of color. A grilled piece of chicken, steak or fish can be brought to life and spiced up with a spoonful of salsa. Salsas also make wonderful dips for tortilla or corn chips, potato chips, crackers, toast, raw vegetables and breadstick.
Preparing salsas at home gives you control over what ingredients go into your salsa. You can use a variety of chiles, onion, and tomatoes, make your salsa tangy by adding lime juice, spice it with chili powder, give it sweetness with sugar or corn, and add creaminess with avocadoes. Again the possibilities are endless, as are the combinations.
Salsas are healthy as they are tasty, since they are made with vegetables they tend to be low in fat, cholesterol, calories and they add texture and flavor to many dishes, without those extra calories or fat found in creamy or sugary sauces. Onions, chiles, garlic and tomatoes are calorie-free so the addition of avocado or sugar to the salsa will not affect it and will still be healthy for you to eat.