Salsa fresca, made with raw ingredients. Other salsas are cooked. Photo courtesy Melissa’s.
Salsa, which has been America’s favorite condiment since 2000 (when it supplanted ketchup),actually has been a favorite condiment for thousands of years.
The chile was domesticated around 5200 B.C.E., and tomatoes by 3000 B.C.E. both in Central America. The Aztecs combined the two, often along with other ingredients like beans and squash seeds, into a condiment, which the Conquistadors named “salsa,” or sauce. Here’s the history of salsa.
May is National Salsa Month. If you’ve never made salsa at home, now’s the time.
Basic salsa couldn’t be easier: salsa fresca, “fresh salsa” made with raw ingredients, is a combination of chopped tomatoes, onions, chiles and lime juice.
You can customize your salsa with beans, bell peppers, cilantro, corn kernels, and fresh herbs.
You can vary the texture: uncooked salsas can be puréed until smooth, chopped finely like pico de gallo or be served semi-chunky, in which case it is called a salsa cruda.
You can include Old World ingredients like garlic and olives.
You can add fruit—mango, nectarine, peach and pineapple are the most popular—for sweet heat.
You can make salsa verde, green salsa, by substituting tomatillos or avocado for tomatoes (guacamole is avocado salsa; the tomatillo is not a small green tomato but a relative of the gooseberry).
You can vary the chile flavor and strength, from mild to hot, from green and vegetal to smoky chipotle.
If you want to make a cooked salsa, another world of ingredients opens, including roasted vegetables and sweet potatoes to.
USING MORE THAN ONE CHILE
There are many easy recipes for salsa fresca; most use jalapeño chiles. But you can layor the chile flavors by adding other varieties.
We adapted this recipe from one for Five Chile Salsa from Melissas.com. It adds an Anaheim chile to the jalapeño.
The Anaheim chile was developed around 1900 in Anaheim, California from New Mexican pasilla chiles. (See the different types of chiles.)
The Anaheim is not a hot chile. It has a modest heat level, as low as 1,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Jalapeños are about 10,000 SHU, while habaneros are 100,000 SHU or more.
Bell peppers are also chiles (all chiles come from the genus Capsicum), but they have no heat. Chiles, new world fruits, were mis-named “peppers” by Columbus’s sailors, who compared their heat to black pepper (no relation).
While much of the world continues to use the misnomer “pepper,” we use it only for bell peppers, calling all other varieties by their proper name, chile.
RECIPE: THREE CHILE SALSA
3 roma* (plum) tomatoes
1 yellow bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
1 Anaheim chile
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup red onion
Juice of one lime or lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1. SEED and dice the tomatoes and peppers, chop the cilantro and red onion.
2. MIX the tomatoes and peppers in a bowl with the cilantro and red onion.
Top a baked potato with salsa, with or without sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt). Photo courtesy TexaSweet.
3. JUICE the lime or lemon over the other chopped ingredients, and season with salt and pepper.
4. MIX the ingredients until well combined, serve with tortilla chips, or as a garnish.
*Named after the city of Rome, Roma tomatoes are also known as Italian tomatoes or Italian plum tomatoes.
WAYS TO ENJOY SALSA
On eggs as a garnish
Mixed into frittatas and omelets
As a sandwich condiment—especially with grilled cheese or roasted veggies
Mixed into chicken, egg, macaroni, potato or tuna salad
With fries, instead of ketchup
With anything Tex-Mex
As a sauce for seafood cocktail (add some horseradish!)
Atop a baked potato, or mixed into mashed potatoes
Made into compound butter and served as a pat atop grilled meats
Mixed with cooked rice or other grains
With mac and cheese
Mixed into deviled eggs
Mixed into a dip with mayonnaise, sour cream or plain yogurt
What’s your favorite use? Let us know!