How to Make Salsa That's Totally Customizable to Your Spice Level

Have you been thinking about making salsa at home? Read on to learn how to whip up a batch of homemade salsa to enjoy your garden-fresh veggies, fruits, and herbs. Whether you like it spicy or mild, there's a salsa recipe for you.

Spanish for "sauce," salsa is a catchall term for the zingy, chile-spiced mixtures that add pizzazz to a range of dishes. It's essential in Latin American cuisines as a spicy condiment for tacos, meats, and more. Several styles of salsa include pico de gallo, salsa verde, salsa roja, and more. Here you can learn how to make style in the most popular types. We include recipes to get exact measurements for each kind, but making salsa can be a fun choose-your-own-adventure to suit your taste preferences. Grab some tomatoes, fruit, onions, and favorite spicy peppers to get started on your next homemade salsa.

salsa ingredients on cutting board
Jacob Fox

How to Make Salsa

The most popular types of salsas are pico de gallo, salsa fresca, and salsa cruda. These 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. To make homemade salsa, combine the ingredients below in a bowl and serve, or cover and chill for up to three days.

Essential Salsa Ingredients

Peppers: When it comes to choosing the best peppers for salsa, it all depends on your preferred spice level. 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. There's no need to seed the tomatoes unless you want to. You can also roast the tomatoes to add smoky flavor to the homemade salsa.

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 a milder flavor, try parsley instead of cilantro. Season the salsa to taste with salt and pepper.

Salsa Picante
Kritsada Panichgul

How to Make Salsa Picante

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.

Test Kitchen Tip: 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.

Classic Salsa Verde
Blaine Moats

How to Make Salsa Verde

Verde means green in Spanish. Instead of tomatoes, salsa verde 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 jalapeño chile pepper, and a bit of salt and sugar. Cover and chill for 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Test Kitchen Tip: 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.

Grilled Strawberry Salsa Fresca
Carson Downing

How to Make Fruit Salsa

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 bell pepper, sliced green onions, snipped fresh cilantro, lime juice, and seeded and chopped jalapeño, serrano, or Anaheim pepper. Cover and chill for up to 2 days.

Fruit Salsa Ideas

Chopped pineapple, mango, papaya, strawberries, peaches, plums, apricots, oranges, and kiwi are best in salsa, and you can use them in various combinations. To add an additional layer of irresistible smoky flavor, try grilling the fruit first.

Still looking for your dream salsa recipe to accompany your next taco night? Now that you've mastered how to make salsa, try your hand at any of these salsa recipes.

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