Salsa -- Spanish for "sauce" -- is a catchall term for the zingy, chile-spiced mixtures that add pizzazz to a range of dishes. Here we show you how to make four simple and distinctive styles of salsa.
Pico de gallo, salsa fresca, and salsa cruda are chunky, uncooked sauces with a fresh tomato base. They are quick and easy to make and are at their best when tomatoes are in season. For fresh salsa, combine the ingredients below in a bowl and serve, or cover and chill for up to three days.
Peppers: Use yellow or orange sweet peppers instead of green sweet peppers to make the salsa more visually appealing. Carefully peel, seed, and finely chop chile peppers. The amount of chile pepper you use will determine the spiciness of your salsa.
- For mild salsa, use banana peppers, Anaheim peppers, and/or canned diced green chile peppers.
- For medium salsa, add one finely chopped jalapeno to the mix.
- For hot salsa, add two finely chopped jalapeno peppers or the even hotter serrano peppers.
Tomatoes: Fresh tomatoes are the base of fresh salsa, so make sure they're flavorful and slightly firm, not mushy. Fresh garden tomatoes are the gold standard, but you can still make salsa off-season by using roma (Italian-style), vine-ripened, or grape or cherry tomatoes from the grocery store. Gold or green tomatoes also make festive-looking salsa. There's no need to seed the tomatoes unless you want to.
Citrus: Lime or lemon juice adds an acidic tang to salsa that balances the heat of the peppers.
Seasonings: Spice up your salsa with diced onion, garlic, and/or fresh cilantro. For milder flavor, try parsley instead of cilantro. Season the salsa to taste with salt and pepper.
Picante means hot and spicy. To make salsa picante, blend finely chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro, chile peppers, and garlic in a blender or food processor, then transfer the mixture (along with chopped sweet peppers and seasonings) to a saucepan. Cooking the salsa will meld the flavors and temper the heat of the peppers. You can also add a bit of sugar to help balance any harshness from the tomatoes and peppers. Simmer the salsa for about 30 minutes or until it reaches desired consistency.
Tomatoes: To seed the tomatoes, core and halve them first. Hold each half over a bowl and use the tip of a spoon to scoop away the seeds. If fresh tomatoes aren't available, use canned diced tomatoes.
Verde means green in Spanish. Instead of tomatoes, green salsa calls for tomatillos, which look like small green tomatoes with husks and taste a bit lemony with a hint of apple. Green salsa is especially tasty as a topper on fish or quesadillas, or as a dip for chips.
For this type of salsa, finely chop the tomatillos and mix them with snipped fresh cilantro, chopped red onion, seeded and finely chopped serrano or jalapeno chile pepper, and a bit of salt and sugar. Cover and chill for 4 hours or up to 3 days.
Tomatillos: Look for fresh tomatillos at the grocery store, Mexican market, or Latin market, or used canned tomatillos. Store fresh tomatillos in their husks in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, and remove the husks with your fingers before using.
Fruit SalsaGet our Quick Fruit Salsa recipe
The sweetness of fresh fruit balances the heat of the chiles and the acidity of the lime juice, creating a delightful fruit salsa.
For this type of salsa, combine the fruit with chopped sweet pepper, sliced green onions, snipped fresh cilantro, lime juice, and seeded and chopped jalapeno, serrano, or Anaheim pepper. Cover and chill for up to 2 days.
Fruit: Chopped pineapple, mango, papaya, strawberries, peaches, plums, apricots, oranges, and kiwi are best in salsa, and you can use them in various combinations.