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.
How to Pick Your Peppers
Peppers can be found all over the world and in all sorts of colors, shapes, sizes, and levels of heat. So how do you find a pepper to fit your culinary style? From sweet bells to fiery habaneros, let us show you the tips and tricks so you can pick your perfect peppers. Late summer and early fall are the best time to get peppers in season. They should be bright, shiny, and have smooth unwrinkled skin. Be sure to avoid peppers that have moldy stems or soft spots. Select peppers that have a vibrant color, firm feel, symmetrical shape, and are heavy. Firmer peppers are most likely matured on the plant and will have better flavor. All peppers fall into two categories--sweet and hot. Let's take a look at some popular pepper varieties. Sweet peppers, such as bell peppers or cubanells can be found in green, red, yellow, orange, purple, or even white. Sweet peppers can be eaten raw, added to soups or salads, and are also great for roasting and grilling. If you like it hot, check out the chili peppers. Jalapeo peppers are the most familiar hot pepper, are rich in flavor, and have a good amount of heat. Jalapeos are great in salsas, Mexican food, and as a garnish. Anaheim chili peppers are larger and have a shiny thick skin and bright green color. Anaheims range from mild and sweet to moderately hot and can be chopped into salsas and casserole dishes. Hungarian wax peppers are a pastel, yellow colored chili similar to the sweeter banana pepper. It's usually used for Hungarian soups and stews but is good in salsas or as a garnish. Serrano peppers are a small, waxy, green chili that ripen to a bright red color. Their thin walls make them a less meaty chili and you can use serrano chilies anywhere you might use jalapeos. Poblano chilies are dark green, heart-shaped peppers that have thick walls and are rather mild which makes them perfect for stuffing and adds a deep rich flavor to soups and chilies. Fresno peppers are bright green and turn red when fully mature. Fresno peppers look much like a jalapeo with a more tapered point and are great in salsas. Habaneros and scotch bonnets top the scale in heat and are very similar. Like most other chilies, they start green and mature to orange and red color when they ripen. Habaneros are used in salsas and salad dressing, while scotch bonnet's distinct flavor are great for Caribbean and jerk dishes. Both sweet and hot peppers can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to one week. Chili peppers contain oils that can burn your skin and eyes. Always wear rubber or plastic gloves when handling fresh chilies and wash your hands, knives, and all surfaces thoroughly afterward with soap and water. When cutting and slicing peppers, start at the stem and cut vertically all the wan around the pepper stem. Remove the stem, core, seeds, and membrane which can be bitter. So whether you're looking to add a little flavor and color to a kebab or wanna add a little heat to your next salsa, remember this guide in your pursuit of the perfectly picked pepper.
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) tomatoes, 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.
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.