Salsa, or sauce in Spanish, is a pureed or chunky-style condiment made primarily with tomatoes and chilies. Its increasing popularity, however, has given rise to many variations, including delectable salsas made with fruit.
Regardless how you like it, salsa is a sensational accompaniment to Mexican foods like crunchy tortilla chips, hearty tacos or juicy enchiladas. It is also a perfect topping for creamy dips, tender
steaks and succulent seafood.
The key to a good salsa is the ingredients – fresh, colorful and full of flavor.
For traditional salsas, the most important component is tomatoes. Ripe roma tomatoes, hot-house tomatoes, or deep red cherry tomatoes make great bases for your salsa. Even though tomatoes do get chopped and combined with many other ingredients, if you use bland tomatoes, you are going to get a bland salsa.
Most authentic salsas call for some kind of chilies or peppers for that quintessential palate-warming taste. Varying the amount and the type of chilies will produce different levels of heat and chile flavor. Jalapenos, habaneras, poblanos, and serranos tend to have the most heat, but can be tempered by removing the inner white membranes and seeds before adding them to the salsa. Another rule is the smaller the pepper, the most heat it has – if you like a milder, sweeter flavor, opt for larger peppers. Bell peppers are sweeter than hot chilies and have just a bit of warmth.
Chopped onions, minced garlic and fresh cilantro are commonly included in salsas and add a nice pungent flavor as well as color and texture.
Avocados and tomatillos, also known as Mexican green tomatoes, can be added for color and texture. The avocados will add a creamy bite, the tomatillos will also provide a tart note.
Citrus juices, particularly lime, and even beer can be stirred in for an extraordinary dimension of flavor. Dried spices, such as cumin, coriander, salt and pepper will add to your salsa's unique taste.
Experiment with different ingredients to find your favorite flavor profiles and texture. For a chunkier salsa, use a knife to chop your ingredients. If you like a thinner consistency, gently puree ingredients in a food processor. However, do not overprocess because liquidy salsa will not hold its place on a chip and will run right out of a taco.
If you think you have a winning salsa combination, enter one of the many salsa competitions:
Basic Salsa Recipe
Makes 6 servings
4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cored, seeded, coarsely chopped
1/4 yellow onion, minced
2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded if desired, minced
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and gently stir. Chill, covered, until ready to use.
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