Adventures in salsa land

I got a hair up my arse and bought a bunch of stuff to make salsa. Just need some helpful hints from my fellow Dopers on proportions, etc. I’ve looked at lots of different recipes, but as usual I’m going to “wing it” and make the end product my own creation.

Here’s what I’ve got:
Assload of Roma tomatoes
Vidalia onions
Fresh Cilantro
2 Serrano peppers
minced garlic in a jar
2 limes

Do I blanch the tomatoes and peel them? Should I yank out all the tomato pulp along with the seeds? How hot are Serranos? I’m not sure if I want to go the cooked route-- I prefer cooked tomatoes to raw, but I’ve had some really great salsa that wasn’t cooked. I just don’t want to end up with something I don’t like.

So tell me how you make your salsa.

p.s. I have surgical gloves for the slicing and handling of the peppers.

Ok, a couple of things. First, throw away the jarred garlic and buy bulbs. It may sound snobby, but I was always taught that if you are willing to eat jarred garlic, you don’t deserve to eat garlic.

Second, I would suggest pealing the tomatoes, but rather than blanching them you could roast them. What you might do is pick up a hand full of tomatios when you go back to the store to pick up the fresh garlic and add those as well. You will want to roast them for just long enough to peel, as raw is nicer for salsa. Bonus points for roasting some of the garlic (stuffed into the tomatoes) at the same time.

Tomato wise, it is fine to use seeds and all. I would just loose the skin.

Serranos are rather hot so you may want to downgrade if that is not to your taste.

I would advocate replacing the vidalias with red onions. This is a matter of opinion, but the red onions have more of a bite where as the vidalias are on the sweet side.

I assume that you have some sort of food proccesor…

Good call on the gloves. I have a horrific story involving cutting habaneros sans gloves and then using the bathroom. I can still feel the pain!

I usually make my salsa on the chunky side…more of a pico de gallo.

Same ingredients like you got there, except with red onions instead of Vidalias. Just dice everything really finely, put in a bowl, and refrigerate. If you want to, you can food process everything a little bit, but keep it on the chunky side. You don’t have to peel the tomatoes. With Roma tomatoes, I’d say for every 5 average-sized plum tomatoes, I’d use one small red onion, one lime, 2-3 serranos, and plenty of cilantro.

However, serranos tend to be hot, so start off on the side of caution. I like my salsa hot, so I put in seeds and everything. If you don’t like it that hot, be sure to scrape out the seeds. You don’t have to wear surgical gloves unless your skin is particularly sensitive and you have a tendency to forget to wash your hands.

If you have some black beans lying around, it’s also nice to throw in some cooked frijoles negras.

That’s it. The only way to screw up salsa is to start with flavorless tomatoes. That shouldn’t be a problem this time of year, so you’ll be fine. Have fun!

I started a thread on salsa a few months back. You might be able to find some ideas and recipes in it:

I made pico de gallo earlier this week, and it came out mighty fine, if I do so say myself. I used a couple of tomatoes, most of a white onion, one lime, one jalapeno (but that wasn’t enough), 2 garlic cloves, and a few tablespoonfuls of fresh cilantro. Just chopped it all up and tossed it together.

I wouldn’t peel or cook the tomatoes, just chop them into nice little pieces. I’ve heard the ratio of 2 tomatoes to 1 onion, but since Romas are smaller than other tomatoes you may want to adjust accordingly.

Just go slow and adjust your seasonings and proportions as you go along. Start out with less cilantro and peppers–you can always add more if it’s not flavorful enough. The nice thing about making your own is that you can make it exactly how you like it.

Last tip: make a pitcher of margaritas and invite some friends over to enjoy your culinary triumph.


Jarred garlic is cooked. Salsa needs the tartness and kick of raw garlic. Cooked garlic is to fresh garlic what cooked onions are to raw onions; not the same animal AT ALL.

Thank you.

(I made two great salsas today; a traditionalish tomato-cilantro-etc. one, and a peach salsa with ginger and Thai basil.)

Ok, ok! I’ll run by the store this morning to pick up some fresh garlic! And a red onion. Maybe a jalepeno. Oh, and I need to buy some tortilla chips, too. I’m truly glad I’ve got you guys to give me feedback. I knew you wouldn’t let me screw up.

Thanks for the replies, everyone. Lou, I checked out that thread before I started this one, but thanks for linking.

Binarydrone, I think this time around I’ll keep it ultra simple. Next time, I may roast the tomatoes and garlic. pulykamell, black bean salsa is ok in my book, but I actually prefer no bean salsa.

I’ll let you know how it went.

So, how was it?

Well, due to my laziness, I went against everyone here and didn’t pick up real garlic or red onions. I ended up staying in the house all day Sunday. Here’s what I did:

Put about a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan. Threw the vidalias and about a teaspoon of jarred garlic in there. When the onions were almost transluscent, I chucked the seeded & chopped tomatoes and the two chopped serranos (no seeds or veins) in. Cooked for a couple minutes, removed from heat. Squeezed the juice of one lime and added a big handful of chopped cilantro. Stir. Taste. Not nearly spicy enough & needed salt. Added sea salt. Taste. Too freakin salty now, but tastes good otherwise. Friend came over & tasted salsa: OOOHED and AAHHHED over it. At this point, it was way soupy. Yesterday, I strained out some of the juice, chopped up a few more tomatoes & chucked them in (did not cook them this time).

Now don’t go rolling your eyes at me. :slight_smile: This was just a test-run. When it comes to cooking, I often fiddle and fart around with stuff until I get it the way I want it. I found that next time (probably soon) I will most certainly use red onions, real garlic and remove tomato skin (I hate the way the flesh squishes with the skins left on). I probably won’t cook any of it, either (my only reasoning behind cooking in the first place is that I find uncooked tomatoes to taste sorta icky. But I know that with the lime juice, the acidity will work the same as in a cerviche). I will use lots more peppers, maybe a variety in one batch. I’m not into burn-your-mouth, kill-the-flavor, shoot-fire-out-my-ass hot stuff, but I ain’t no wussy.

My effort (inadequate as it was) wasn’t wasted, though. The end result is similar to a fresh Rotel. I’ll probably end up using it in cooking some chicken boobs tonight. MMMMM.

Binarydrone, I’m open to more suggestions if you’re willing to supply. The question is, will I use them? Heh. Seriously, now that I’m getting a better understanding of the process, and what happens to each ingredient as they’re added, I’ll follow everyone’s suggestions in the future. And thanks to all who joined in the thread.

The suggestions all look good to me, and I’ll vouch especially for burundi’s recipe–we ate another batch of salsa last night, and it was insanely delicious.

One question:

In my experience, food processors ruin salsa (and similar foods) because they ruin the onion’s integrity, basically causing the entire dish to taste like oniony sulfuric acid. If you’re gonna food-process, you should do everything EXCEPT the onions, and chop the onions by hand and add them last.

Binary, is there some trick to F-Ping salsa that I don’t know about? Or does it maybe depend on your processor? Mine is admittedly a cheap little thing, the low-end version that you can pick up at K-Mart.


Actually, I think that you have it just right. I like to process about half of the tomatoes and then mince the other half. I find that this gives a nice texture. Onions and all other ingredients to be chopped by hand (and raw!). Even the tomatoes I will only do the roast and peel thing if I am extremely ambitious and I only roast them long enough to get the skins ready to peel. They are essentially raw.

First off, I wouldn’t cook any of it or use a processor unless you’re looking for something like that mess they sell in jars in the supermarket. Pico de gallo should only contain raw ingredients.

Now, you can make this soupy or not; the secret is in how you prepare the tomatoes. If you chop up whole, unseeded tomatoes, the salsa will eventually turn watery, as salt will cause the tomatoes to bleed out their water.

I prefer to concasse the tomatoes, i.e., cut them into quarters, gut out all the seeds and pulp, then chop the remainder. You can always save the ‘guts’ for tomato sauce, if desired. This will result in a salsa that isn’t dripping all over you and any guests. Mince the red onions finely. Your other ingredients sound fine, just fiddle with the proportions until it’s how you like it.

For quick peeling, stab a fork into a tomato, and briefly twirl it over a stove burner. It’ll not only loosen the skin, but it will lightly carmelize some of the tomato’s sugar.

Don’t throw out the gooey stuff in the middle. A tomato contains hundreds of flavor chemicals, some of which are found only in that goop around the seeds.

I got this stuff from The Splendid Table, a weekly food show on public radio.

Interesting! I’ve always liked that snotty mass around the seeds, and now I know why :). Last night I decided to think of it as equivalent to passionfruit pulp, which makes it a lot more appetizing than “snotty mass.”

That makes sense, Binary. Although pico de gallo is sublime, sometimes I kinda like having very finely chopped salsa, like what you get from a jar only fresh. I discovered the hard way that you can’t do that (with onions) in a food processor.


So, this salsa thread inspired me and I made salsa tonight. Damn fine salsa. Let me share what I did:

For tomatoes, I used a variety of heirloom tomatoes. 1 gigantic red one and two purple ones and a small yellowish one. These were minced raw.

I then cut up a shitload of shallots (boldly skipping any onion)and some fresh minced garlic and added this to the tomatoes.

A bit of cilantro, check. And Just to be saucy, a bit of dill. Some green pepper (minced) and ½ of a habanero. Lime, and salt. Oh man I man in heaven.

Rustic, pretty to behold and damn tasty (served with blue corn chips and (for some odd reason) gin and tonics).

Seeker, I do hope you’ll try it again with all raw ingredients. The reason I don’t buy store-bought salsa is because the ingredienct are necessarily cooked; this is not the case in real life. Real salsa should be all raw.

Another salsa variation that has worked for me: Yellow tomatoes and purple basil, instead of red tomatoes and cilantro, for a tart italianate variation. One of my most popular.

While searching for salsa directions I found this thread. I read all through it and made some salsa that really suited me. I followed the recommendations of the majority and it was all raw, quite garlicky, and only moderately spicy. (I used jalepenos at a little more than half the level most folks stated. So I’m a wuss.)

One thing I didn’t have, and didn’t want to go all the way to the store for at this time(I was hungry, dammit!) was a lime, for the juice. But the stuff was good anyway.

So what is it the lime juice does? I can always get one for the next time, as my own tomatoes are finally coming ripe.

BTW, to stop it from being too watery, as I chopped the ingredients I didn’t put them into a bowl, but into a strainer suspended over a bowl. Every so often I stirred it to blend the ingredients, and that helped to gently release some of the juiciness of the tomatoes. I didn’t throw out the juice, but put it into a glass, added icecubes, and voila! An all natural V-8!

From a flavor point of view, the lime brightens the salsa. It also has preservative properties (no one wants brown salsa the next day!) and it sort of breaks things down a little and “cooks” raw stuff to blend the flavors.

Thanks for the information, Binarydrone !