How do you make a good salsa?

I’m lookin specifically at Zenster and Uke.

I’ve had some bad salsas, and I’ve had some BAD salsas. I think On The Border has an okay one. A green salsa is not an option. Spicy, but not ‘hah! hah! water!!!’ spicy. But then, I have a high tolerance (habeneros are okay, even) so I guess that’s not a problem.

What are the ingredients in a good salsa? Not too chunky. I like a smooth texture with small (2-3mm tops) size chunks. I’d assume a blender would be used, but how do you make it not be airy and bubbly?

Tomatoes, garlic?, chilis, onions, red pepper, black pepper, salt, vinegar?, oils?

How to make a good salsa?


The first step is to write the recipe coherently…

First of all, you can’t make good salsa in november.

You need good tomatoes, ripe, red and juicy. Of course, all of this depends on you wanting to make a red salsa. Making salsa verde requires tomatillos.

Peel and seed the tomatoes. make a small ‘x’ incision in the bottom and plung them into boiling water for about 20 seconds, then into an ice bath, the peel just slips out. Cut them in half and squeeze out the seeds into a strainer, saving any juice that comes out in the squeezing process. I think the seeds add a bit of bitterness that I prefer to avoid, but it’s not desperate.

I like using vidalia or other sweet onions, (Walla-Walla, Texas Sweet or Maui) but white onions will work as well.

Garlic: Several cloves of garlic, minced fine. I use kosher salt as an abrasive to grind the garlic into a paste, it dissolves into the salsa without giving a big ‘bite’ of garlic flavor.

Roasted corn: Two ears are usually enough, roast them in the oven for 20 minutes or so, it concentrates the flavor and dries it out a bit.

Red peppers: I roast them, either on the grill or over the burners until the skin is blackened and then pop them into a paper bag for a few minutes to cool, the skins peel right off. Dice them and add them to the tomatoes and onions.

Pablano Peppers: I roast and peel these as well. They’re not very hot but add a very nice flavor to the dish.

Chiles: Depends on my mood. Sometimes it’s just a couple jalapenos, other times I add a half of a habanero or so, just to give it the extra kick. I’ve even used chipotle (smoked jalapenos) to good effect. It gives an almost earthy flavor to the salsa.

Additions: Cilantro, can’t live without it. A dash or two of olive oil to give it some richness. Lime juice to give some extra acidity. Salt/black pepper to taste.

If you want to vary the texture, either dice the ingredients small by hand, or use a food processor, if you pulse it, you won’t get as much air incorporated into the liquid and it generally won’t emulsify the oil (if you use any) with the rest of the juices. I also think a food processor can control the ‘chunkiness’ of the salsa better than a blender would.

Cyn: I realize I sound like I’m on crack tonite. What can a guy do?

Ankh: I dislike corn in salsa! Uck! Otherwise, good advice. Thanks.

Is it possible to make salsa from canned vegs, jar spices, and non-fresh fruit? I’m impossibly lazy.


Is it possible to make salsa from canned vegs, jar spices, and non-fresh fruit? I’m impossibly lazy.
Yeah .It’s called catsup

It won’t be chunky like salsa. The tomatos will be mushy.
I’ll post a recipe I tried last year. Not as complicated as Ankh’s.It is by “The Amish cook” Elizabeth Cobentz.
I’m a slow typer so I’ll have to back out and see you later.

A buddy of mine makes a great salsa. You might not like it, though, since it is pretty chunky.

One of his ingredients is little cubes of cucumber. Try it, it works.

(Personal note: Cilantro is foul! Yuck. Ick. Ptooiee!)

I’m Back


 14 pounds tomatos scalded peeled & cut up
 10 green peppers cut up
 5 cups onions chopped
 1 cup vinegar
 2ounces hot peppers chopped
 1/2 cup brown sugar
 1/4 cup salt
 2 teaspoons oregano flakes
 3 teaspoons cumin
 3 teaspoons chili powder
 1 teaspoon garlic powder
 10 teaspoons clear jell

Mix everything except jell and cook on stove top for 45 minutes
Add jell
Cold Pack

This is pretty good stuff. Might want to add some hot peppers or just Tobasco.
This is the first recipe that I have seen that has Shur Jell. It is not enough to break your
chips but holds things together well enough that you can pile it on.

Like I said Elizabeth Coblentz’s recipe

Here is my best, and I’ve tried many, Salsa recipe:

2-28oz cans plum tomatoes
4 oz can tomatoe paste
1/12 cup lime juice
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic
2 chopped onions
1 small chopped red pepper
1 small chopped green pepper
1/6 cup bottled hot banana pepper rings, chopped
2 tsp oregano
1 tbsp + 1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp tabasco sauce
1 tsp red pepper flakes

mix all this stuff together and cook
add 2 tsp freshly chopped parsley to mixture before bottling

Where’s my soapbox? Oh, there it is. ::steps up::

You do not cook salsa.

You do not use a blender to make salsa.

Salsa is chunky, not smooth.

You do not use tomato paste.

You do not use canned tomatoes.

You do not use brown sugar, chili powder or cumin.

You must use cilantro. ::steps down::

Ankh_Too, I’ll bring the chips.

Shiva The Salsa Nazi

You guys have all got it wrong.

Here’s the killer recipe:

Roast some jalepenos until completely blackened. Do not peel. Cut off the tops and blend slightly. You can use substitute poblanos if you want it less spicy.

Put in some overripe or canned tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes into quarters before putting in to let any tomato juice out. Canned tomatoes are just fine - they are the perfect ripeness. Blend more.

Put in some cilantro. Blend more.

Take out of the blender. Put in a few pieces of choppen onions. Not a lot, or it will overpower the salsa.

Add salt to taste.

So that’s it. To me, that’s a salsa recipe. Salsa is like beer - the fewer ingredients, the better. Just tomatoes, jalepenos, onions, and cilantro.

I mostly agree with Shiva, but salsa can be smooth (this one is). It’s just a matter of personal taste. And unless you have easy access year-round to overripe tomatoes, using canned tomatoes is far superior to using store-bought ones. Store-bought ones taste like plastic anyway, the canned ones taste much better since they don’t need to be a variety that holds up under transport.

Hey, Homer! Thanks for the vote of confidence. All these guys are steering you in the right direction; I can’t find anything to argue with in the intervening posts. I COULD challenge the “all salsa in chunky!” statement…remember that in Spanish, ANY kind of sauce is a “salsa.”

In colloquial American English, however, the term is reserved for what Mexicans would call salsa cruda (or fresca), a condiment made of raw or mostly raw ingredients, served cold on the side. Some elements may be cooked, but the mixture tastes fresh on the whole.


1 1/2 pounds whole small tomatoes (Roma or plum)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 fresh jalapenos
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tsp salt
2-3 tblsp cider vinegar

Heat the broiler.
Put the tomatoes on a small baking sheet; broil for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft and the skins split and turn dark in spots. Let them cool for a little while.
Puree the tomatoes in a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Serve warm or refrigerate for use later.

Chunkier, and green.


1 pound whole tomatillos, husked
1 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, chopeed fine
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 canned chilpotle chiles, minced, or more to taste (these are HOT…they’re smoked jalapenos)
1 tblsp cider vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt

Heat the broiler.
Broil the tomatillos on a small baking sheet for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until they’re soft and dark in spots. Cool them briefly.
Warm the oil in a small skillet. Add the onion and saute until just softened. Transfer to a bowl.
Chop the tomatillos fine and add them to the onion. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
Again, can be served warm or cool, depending on the occasion and dish.


Keep sugar out of the recipe of any good salsa. :slight_smile:

Finally, a north Mexican fresh relish usually known as salsa mexicana or salsa cruda. Known in Texas as


1 pound Romas or plum tomatoes, chopped
4 fresh jalapenos, minced
3 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, for the flavors to meld. Best eaten the same day.

(All recipes kitchen-tested in my own humble home. Credits: All recipes from the excellent THE BORDER COOKBOOK by Cheryl and Bill Jamison, Harvard Common Press, 1995)

As usual Ike is the only one who is close to the mark. When I get done here, I’m going to have to cross post this tutorial to my recipe thread.

Salsa 101

[li]All salsas are cooked, a raw “salsa” is called a pico de gallo.[/li]
[li]Bell peppers are never used in real salsa.[/li]
[li]Always use white onions unless you are intentionally seeking a different (and less authentic) flavor. Green onions are commonly used in a pico de gallo and not in salsas. Look for “spring onions” with a larger bulb at the base.[/li]
[li]It is extremely important to “sweat” your onions before using them in your salsa.[/li]
[li]Every Mexican person I know has always eschewed plum or Roma tomatoes in favor of salad tomatoes.[/li]
[li]With very few exceptions you must roast fresh chiles before using them. (Instructions to follow.)[/li]
[li]White vinegar is preferred to cider or any sort of wine vinegar.[/li]
[li]Not all salsas use cilantro, but it is important to the flavor of many of them. Sadly, most restaurants and producers use far too much of it and give their salsas a bitter aftertaste.[/li]
[li]When limes are specified for a recipe, try and find the smaller Mexican limes for a more authentic flavor. Ordinary limes have a different character but can be used in a pinch. Certain recipes benefit from the use of lemon.[/li]
[li]Most salsas are defecient in the amount of salt that they contain. Almost all of them benefit from the use of some salt.[/li]
[li]The use of herbs is not common in salsas. The most frequently used ones are cilantro, oregano and cumin powder. Extreme care should be used when adding cumin powder to a salsa. Cumin has a very strong flavor that can dominate everything rather quickly. Always add it in small increments and taste for balance.[/li]
[li]All salsas benefit from “marrying” up. A few hours will make a vast difference in the complexity and balance of flavors. Many salsas require it. You will know a restaurant is not authentic when they make the salsa (or guacamole) for you at your table.[/li]
[li]Although sugar may help to “round out” the flavor of a salsa, I have never seen it added to any I’ve had.[/li]
[li]The heat of any salsa can be controlled by keeping or removing the seeds and internal ribs from the chile pods that you are using. This is where the oils are most concentrated.[/li]
[li]Tomato paste is never used as it is far too sweet and adds a soupy consistency. Tinned tomato products can be used in a pinch but are generally frowned upon.[/li]
[li]It is not critical to roast or peel tomatoes before using them. This is solely a matter of preference. There are times where the removal of any tomato seeds is desireable.[/li]
[li]Using more than one type of chile is generally frowned upon. The clarity of flavor is muddled by such admixture.[/li]
[li]Learn to haunt a local Mercado Mexican supermarket for your ingredients. Try to find one that makes fresh tortillas to be sure that they are dedicated to real Mexican food.[/li]Now that we have all that out of the way, let’s make a generic salsa.

Preheat your oven to Broil. If you do not have a broiler, you may also roast chiles in a dry pan on the stove top. You want to blacken the skins of the chile almost completely. Leaving the stem on the intact chile gives you a convenient handle for turning them. The roasting process mellows the flavor of the pepper much like when garlic is roasted. The high temperatures partially convert sugars and help to break down the plant fibers. At the same time you will also want to warm up a pot or skillet for sweating the onions.

Monitor the roasting process carefully and turn the chiles to char them on all sides. If allowed to go on too long you will dry out your peppers and lose the critical flesh of the pods.

Once the peppers are roasted, transfer them to a paper or plastic bag and close it tightly. Plastic bags work best because they do not absorb any liquid that is released. Beware of the hot chiles melting through the plastic.

You must leave the roasted peppers in the bag for at least ten minutes, so that they steam themselves. This will make it possible to remove the skins with ease. For smaller peppers such as the Habanero and Serrano peeling them is not always possible.

While the peppers are roasting, chop an onion into a fine dice. “Sweat” the onions in the pan until they become translucent. Do not brown them or the flavor of your salsa will suffer. You may use a tiny (~1 TSP) amount of oil in this process.

Garlic will “round out” the flavor of many salsas. It is not used in every type made, but many of them will benefit from it. The garlic should be sweated as well. Be sure to add it to the onions right at the very end. It is better to scrape the onions aside and sweat the garlic by itself so that you can monitor it carefully. Again, browning the garlic will ruin the salsa. If the garlic does become brown, throw it out and start again. Typically the garlic flavor should not be noticible. Instead, it should compliment the peppers and broaden their flavor notes.

By now, your chiles have finished steaming in their bag. Remove them from the bag and peel them. You may wish to wear gloves when doing this. Another precaution is to coat your hands with vegetable oil ahead of time if you are not going to wear gloves. The oil acts as a barrier for your skin which may be washed off later. Be sure to rinse out any juice that may have accumulated in the bag. Use the juice in your salsa.

For smooth salsas a hand blender is your best friend. For the more rustic Salsa Cruda the vegetables merely need to be chopped finely. The following recipe is for a green Jalapeño smooth salsa.

Jalapeño Salsa
Preparation time: 30 Minutes

Serves: 4-8 People

6-8 Green Jalapeño chiles*
1-2 White onions
1-2 Tbs White vinegar
1-2 Tbs Chopped cilanro (optional)
1-2 Cloves Garlic (optional)
3-6 Tomatillos (optional)
1/2-1 Tsp Salt (to taste)
1/2-1 Tsp Lemon juice (optional)
Dash of cumin powder
Dash of oregano (optional)

  • The very hottest Jalapeños will be the viejos. These are the older and more ripe pods that show light brown striations on their skins. Solid green Jalapeños will be less hot and have a more vegetable like flavor.

Roast the chiles and sweat the onions and garlic. Peel the chiles and place them with all the other ingredients into a bowl. Blend with a hand blender or place in a conventional blender and purree. If you are using fresh tomatillos, you must first boil them in a small amount of water until they are completely soft.

Strain off the seeds and any pieces of skin from the salsa. If you are pressed for time you may skip the peeling step and blend the entire roasted peppers (with stem and seed core removed from larger pods). You will need to use a fine strainer to remove the skin and seeds.

Stir and scrape the bottom of the strainer with a spoon to help the salsa move through the wire mesh. Return the strained salsa to a pot on the stove and heat through, tasting for flavor. Add more salt or spice to taste and do not boil your salsa.

This recipe will work for almost any type of chile. Red Jalapeño, Serrano, Poblano and many others may all be used in a similar fashion. For other peppers, the optional ingredients will vary, but the general principle remains the same.
Note: Please use yellow corn tortilla chips. They have the best flavor to accompany your fresh salsa. Even better is to fry up your own, but that is optional.

In a final note to you Tim. If you want to do this quick and dirty I suggest that you try a tin of Rotel hot tomatoes. You will want to add some roasted red or green Jalapeños and onions (plus any of the other ingredients in the recipe above) to the canned ingredients. Purree all of this and strain it off for a faster but less tasty version.

I implore you to purchase a small tin of Herdez brand Salsa Casera and taste it. It is the first salsa I ever attempted to copy and outshines all others by a country mile. A recipe for duplicating it is posted at my recipe thread. Please look for the small can as the bottled salsa varies in quality for some reason.

Once you have done the whole procedure a few times, it becomes much easier and less time consuming. Nothing beats having a salsa with the exact flavor you like.

Allright! Thanks for all the great recipes, guys! Now that I’ve got some good ones to go by, I suppose I just have to get off my lazy duff and test, test, test until I figure out which one(s) I like best.

Thanks again!


If you put cilantro in the salsa I will unplug your freezer and burn all of your recipes.
Not a threat, just… Well, Ok, a threat.

Good stuff here!

A small, grateful footnote, Zenster: I’m glad you mentioned the feasiblity of using good quality canned tomatoes. Maybe it’s different in foodie-intensive large urban areas, but it can be hard to find good tomatoes out of season in lots of places.

I’d much rather use Rotel or quality canned romas in preference to the hard, tasteless hunks marketed as “fresh”. Even the hydroponic goodies are pretty feeble. If I can’t have fresh-from-the-vine garden tomatoes I’d rather use quality canned ones. They’re too crucial as the dominant “base taste” in salsa to futz around.

And the idea of salsa without cilantro is too horrifying to contemplate. Sure, it can be overwhelming, but used cleverly, it’s an indispensible accent. Same w/ lime juice, or lemon (fresh!) in a pinch. No vinegar can add the same freshness along with the acidity.


If you use tinned tomatoes, I strongly recommend draining them completely and assembling the recipe without using any of the canned juice. Once the basic ingredients are combined you might adjust the thickness and flavor with some of the juice. I would also recommend that all seeds be removed as well.

For some of the more delicate flavored peppers, such as the Habanero (believe it or not), I prefer to avoid citrus juices. They can be strong enough to mask the subtle notes of the chiles. For a fine tomatillo salsa lemon juice is essential. It all depends on the character of the salsa in question. I also enjoy the preservative properties conferred by the vinegar.

Tim, please try the Herdez brand Salsa Casera.

Veb, congrats again on your mod status.

Okay I’ll pick some up when I have a chance.

The reason that I want to make salsa is nothing I’ve found has the right flavor or texture, except for this tiny little mexican food place in Olathe that I’ve since forgotten the location of.