Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
What Is Salsa?
- A lively, vigorous type of contemporary Latin American popular music, blending predominantly Cuban rhythms with elements of jazz, rock, and soul music.
- In Mexican cookery a sauce, especially a hot sauce containing chilies.
Don't get your hopes up—I will not be writing today (or any other day for that matter) about dance. I love to watch others do it, but alas I was born with two left feet. End of story. Our focus today is on the second meaning of the word "salsa." (And, as the Carb Diva, you knew I'd be talking about food, didn't you?)
What Is in a Name?
Salsa. Pico de Gallo. Some people use the two names interchangeably. Sometimes you should, and sometimes you shouldn't. Every pico de gallo is a salsa, but not every salsa is a pico de gallo. Huh? Here's a table that might help a little:
Pico de Gallo vs. Salsa
|Pico de Gallo||Salsa|
always made from the same simple ingredients—tomato, onion, jalepeno, cilantro
might certainly contain those ingredients, but varies from region to region
chunky, like a salad
tends to be "soupier"
often fresh, but may be cooked or canned
can be used a filling in tacos or fajitas
commonly used as a dip
Where Did This All Begin?
Let's begin in the beginning. Historians believe that as early as 700 A.D., the Aztecs were cultivating the tomato plant. We know that they already had chilies and spices—could the invention of salsa been far behind?
The explorer Hernando Cortéz arrived on the scene in 1519; he conquered the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan (now named Mexico City) in 1521. Eight years later Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan priest and missionary travelled to this area, New Spain, and devoted the next 50 years of his life learning the language and recording the history, culture, and beliefs of the Aztec people. One of his works, Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España (General History of the Things of New Spain) contains this excerpt about food vendors in Aztec markets:
"He sells foods, sauces, hot sauces, fried [food], olla-cooked, juices, sauces of juices, shredded [food] with chile, with squash seeds, with tomatoes, with smoke chile, with hot chile, with yellow chile, with mild red chile sauce, yellow chile sauce, sauce of smoked chile, heated sauce, he sells toasted beans, cooked beans, mushroom sauce, sauce of small squash, sauce of large tomatoes, sauce of ordinary tomatoes, sauce of various kinds of sour herbs, avocado sauce.”
Well, I don't know about you, but I'm inspired. Here are some of my favorite salsa (and pico de gallo) recipes.
1. Basic Fresh Tomato Salsa (Salsa Cruda or Pico de Gallo)
Serving: Makes about 2 1/2 cups
- 2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (about 5 medium)
- 2 fresh jalapeño chiles
- 1/4 cup onion, diced
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs (tops only), chopped
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Slice tomatoes in half horizontally. Remove seeds with a small spoon and discard. (This is easy with large Roma tomatoes that have just 4 seed-filled sections. Other tomatoes often have many little seed hiding places. For those I hold the tomato half over the sink and use my fingers to push out the seeds).
- Cut tomato into small (1/4-inch) dice and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
- Wearing rubber gloves, cut chilies in half, remove seeds and finely mince. Add to the tomatoes in the bowl. (Please be careful when handling fresh chilies. Don’t rub your eyes or mouth). When you have finished preparing the chilies, remove and discard the rubber gloves.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir; add salt and pepper to taste. It can be made one hour ahead and kept at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate leftovers, but plan to use them within 24 hours.
2. Easy (Canned) Tomato Salsa
Serving: Makes 3 cups
- 1 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, drained
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1/2 cup white onion
- 2 jalapeño chilies, stems removed (see note below)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs (ok to include some stems)
Combine all ingredients in a blender in the order listed. Pulse until the salsa reaches desired consistency. Note: If you prefer a less spicy-hot salsa, remove the seeds from the jalapeño.
3. Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)
Serving: Makes 2 1/2 cups
- 1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed
- 1 medium jalapeno, stem removed (optional)
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Preheat broiler.
- Rinse tomatillos and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil 4 inches from the heat source for about 5 minutes or until charred in spots. Remove from oven; carefully flip over and return to oven. Broil for an additional 5 minutes or until blistered.
- Carefully place broiled tomatillos and jalapeno in the jar of a blender; pulse several times. Scrape down the sides of the jar; add the remaining ingredients. Pulse again until the mixture is smooth.
4. Black Bean and Corn Salsa
Maria and Josh are the creators and authors of the sweet blog Two Peas And Their Pod where you will find easy, fresh-ingredient meal ideas (and lots and LOTS of cookie recipes). They created a black and corn salsa that is healthy, flavorful, and definitely addictive:
5. Mango Salsa
This is my husband's favorite salsa. It's a very versatile recipe—you can omit the cucumber and substitute red bell pepper, tomatoes, peaches, nectarine, or even strawberries.
- 3 ripe mangos
- 1 cup diced English cucumber
- 1/2 cup red onion, minced
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (no stems), chopped
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely diced (see note below)
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir together gently. Cover and set aside for at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour to allow flavors to blend.
Important Note: You must wear rubber gloves when preparing/handling the raw chili pepper. Cut chilies in half, remove seeds, and finely mince. (Don’t rub your eyes or mouth). When you have finished preparing the chilies, remove and discard the rubber gloves.
© 2016 Linda Lum