Salsa Success for Cinco de Mayo   

By Sidonie Maroon, Culinary Educator, A Blue Dot Kitchen

What makes good salsa? Salsas play a flavor dance between spicy, sour, and salty with a touch of sweet. They’re colorful—red and green with a rainbow of yellow to oranges. Salsa’s zippy. Your tongue says—yum, let’s try that again, and they’re easy to spoon, or scoop.

There’s three major salsa categories—First is fresh salsa, made with green herbs, raw tomatoes, onion, fresh chilies, salt and lime. Second is cooked salsa, which is long simmered to concentrate the flavors, often including roasted chilies. Third is the combination salsa, which plays between fresh and cooked.

Tips for good salsa every time

  • Start with quality ingredients, like seasonal tomatoes or canned organic. Use vibrant cilantro and recently harvested chilies. 

  • Know how much heat you can handle. Hot chilies from mild to outrageous: Anaheim, poblano, jalapeno, Hungarian, serrano, tabasco, cayenne, Thai, Scotch Bonnet, habanero.    

  • Chilies are about more than heat, because they provide fruity sweetness, and umami depth. Try fresh mild chilies, like poblanos charred or roasted. Green chilies are in a class of their own and make wonderful salsa. Many dried chilies can be toasted and ground into a powder, or reconstituted with hot water and made into a paste to add to salsa. This is effective with smoked chipotles, or big fruity ancho chilies. My favorites for these techniques are: negro and New Mexican chilies. Chili seeds furnish another flavor element and can be toasted.

  • Use a quality salt and two kinds: a fine high mineral sea salt when mixing everything together, and a flaked sea salt right before serving with extra lime.

  • Acids bring flavors up and to the front. Lime is classic, but sometimes vinegars are used. I make a jalapeno and garlic infused vinegar with apple cider vinegar that’s perfect with salsa. A squeeze of fresh lime or a dash of vinegar right before serving will wow.

  • Chop chunky salsa’s by hand or use a food processor and pulse the ingredients together but keep them distinct.

  • Use salsas on food that needs salsa power, not food that’s already spicy or highly flavored. Salsa needs contrast not competition.

Salsa, translates as sauce, so it’s sometimes smooth and emulsified. I’ve added a recipe for a roasted garlic mojo that’s an excellent example of a smooth salsa. Several of my recipes use the novel but easy technique of slow roasting the ingredients in the oven wrapped in parchment paper. This makes a delicious salsa, with minimal fuss.

Remember to have fun making salsa; they add so much to a meal and demand little in return.

Try out unique seasonal ingredients like fresh corn or tomatillos. Experiment with herbs beyond cilantro —like mint, dill, oregano or parsley. Try using garlic, onions or even ginger and fresh turmeric. The secret to salsa is to bring your best self to the work at hand. Salsa and chips, one of the simple pleasures—Ah.   

AdobeStock_84480060-salsa.jpeg

Pico de Gallo

Makes about 3 cups

Classic fresh Mexican salsa  

Ingredients

28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes in season

1 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup finely chopped white onion

1 small fresh jalapeño, finely chopped with seeds

Juice of 2 limes

1 teaspoon fine sea salt or to taste

Instructions

In a food processor: Add the ingredients and pulse until everything combines, but the salsa is still chunky. Taste and correct the lime, salt, and heat to your taste. 

 

Roasted Garlic Green Chili Salsa

Makes a little over 1 cup

1 ½ hours including roasting time  

The garlic, onion, spices, lime and chilies get roasted wrapped in parchment paper, inside of a lidded casserole or lidded cast iron. You can roast the garlic mojo in another piece of wrapped parchment, and tuck it in the casserole at the same time.

Ingredients

1 head garlic, cloves peeled, green parts removed, and cloves smashed. (Garlic tip below)

⅓ cup diced white onion 

1 lime, zested, peel and pith removed, and then chopped

½ teaspoon cumin, toasted and ground

½ teaspoon coriander, toasted and ground

¼ cup avocado oil

1 cup roasted New Mexican green chilies (I used jarred chilies)

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

Fresh lime juice to taste

Instructions

Toast and grind spices together. Preheat oven to 325 F. In a lidded casserole, lay all the ingredients, except the fresh lime juice, onto a piece of parchment paper. Mix the oil in and wrap together. Put the lid on and roast for 1 hour. When finished, unwrap and mash the garlic into the chilies and lime. Taste and add fresh lime and salt as needed.

Variation: Replace the green chilies with 2 teaspoons of chipotle sauce. Add 2 cups diced fire roasted canned tomatoes, after roasting. Add fresh lime, cilantro and salt before serving.

 

Roasted Citrus Garlic Mojo

Makes ¾ cup

1 ½ hours including roasting time 

One of those recipes to always have around—a roasted garlic emulsified sauce with powers. You’ll find many uses for mojo from scrambled eggs to chicken tacos and beyond. 

Ingredients

1 head garlic, cloves peeled, green parts removed, and cloves smashed (garlic tip below)

1 lime, zested, peel and pith removed, and then chopped

1 teaspoon zest

⅓ cup avocado oil

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt (you may need more salt to finish)

½ teaspoon toasted cumin seed

Fresh lime juice

Toast the cumin. Preheat oven to 325 F. In a lidded casserole, lay all the ingredients onto a piece of parchment paper. Mix the oil in and wrap together. Put the lid on and roast for 1 hour. When finished, unwrap and puree together in a small food processor until it emulsifies. Taste and swoon. It may need more salt, or a squeeze of fresh lime. 

Tip for peeling a whole head of garlic in less than a minute

Lay the garlic head on a cutting board. Take another cutting board and bring it down with force on the garlic head. Didn’t that feel good? Now, with two medium metal mixing bowls. Put the broken cloves in one bowl and turn the other bowl, domed, over the top of the first. Shake, shake, shake as hard as you can. Uncover, and presto we peeled the whole head of garlic. Discard the skins and get on with the recipe.

AdobeStock_233547277-salsa.jpeg