Another fancy display of your mexican pride, right?
I'm Andy and I was born in Mexico. I could use this fact to disprove everyone's salsa recipes and label them as "unauthentic ripoffs", except for the fact that a) You don't have anything besides my word to know that I'm actually mexican and b) Some of these recipes look pretty "authentic" in the sense that a salsa is one of those things that can be done in a thousand different ways and all of them can be good.
So, instead of just giving you the easiest salsa recipe ever, I'll delve a little deeper and give you some cultural trinkets about this magnificent food.
¿Verde o roja?
"Salsa" translates directly to "sauce", which as you may know can be a lot of different things. However, in vernacular spanish, "salsa" is an informal shorthand for "salsa picante" (spicy/hot sauce) referring to the spicy chili-based thing that so many people love.
However, there are many spicy substances called "salsa", not just the one you may have in mind. One such thing is a spicy sauce known as Valentina sauce (Salsa Valentina) which is both the brand and the common term for a type of salsa used commonly with fruit and chips (Lays-style) but not with tacos.
But among the several varieties of salsas available, the most common styles are "the green one" and "the red one" (respectively known as Salsa verde and Salsa roja). Of all the common rivalries between mexicans, the preference of Verde over Roja is one of the most prominent and the source of endless arguments (until someone starts eating, that is)
In their most basic forms, these salsas are crushed chilis of the aforementioned colors with a bit of water and salt so that you get a spreadable version of a chile. This is, in a way, an upgrade to the custom of having a chile as a garnish of sorts to be eaten with the main course. In many rural populations this custom still exists and it's the most basic way of adding that hot flavor to one's meal.
I, for one, lean towards the green side of this neverending argument but in honor of my country's culinary traditions, I'll present you a recipe for both green and red salsa.
Mind you, salsa verde and salsa roja are not the only varieties of salsa available and there's more than one way of doing each. Since a very basic salsa is just a chile-based paste, a different kind of chile will yield a different kind of salsa.
My anecdotal experience tells me that people who aren't used to eating spicy food can't taste the chile flavor that salsa imparts to the food because the stinging pain blocks it. I can't really confirm that assertion because I really can't remember what it felt the first times I ate spicy food.
But I can tell you this: not all salsas are created the same and they aren't all equally good for a single purpose. Some salsas taste better with some things. For someone who isn't used to actually tasting salsa this may be a surprise, so let me tell it to you right now: you really should try more salsas.
Other salsa varieties:
- Pasilla (made with chile pasilla)
- Morita (made with chile morita)
- Costeña (made with chile guajillo)
- Cuaresmeño (made with chile cuaresmeño)
- Habanero (made with chile habanero)
- Salsa borracha ("drunk" salsa, made with pulque)
- Salsa endiablada (devil's salsa, three different chiles)
- Pico de gallo (rooster's beak, not exactly a salsa because it doesn't have the paste-like consistency, but very popular everywhere)
A small note on mexican idiosyncracies: for some reason people like to argue that a red tomato is called "Jitomate" and a green tomato is called just "Tomate". In many contexts these terms can be used interchangeably because they refer to the "normal" (red) tomato, but when discussing salsa, the difference is crucial most of the time.
- 4 raw jalapeño peppers, without the stem
- 8 raw green tomatoes
In a hot pan or comal without oil, heat up the peppers and tomatoes on a low fire. When the skin starts going brown, turn them around and continue frying them1. The skin will not uniformly get brown, which is OK. When you have 3 or 4 brown spots on everything, get them out of the fire and let them cool a minute or two. Put everything on the blender with some salt2 and blend them until you get a consistent paste3. If it's too dry, add a little bit of water. That's it, you're done.
Bottom line: This recipe can easily be scaled up and down. The rule of thumb is to have twice as many green tomatoes as jalapeños.
Variants: you can add chopped raw onion, garlic, cilantro and/or parsley to the salsa, just don't heat them with the peppers and tomatoes. I've tasted salsas with a bit of sweetness added to it, but I haven't figured out what it was.
- 4 raw jalapeño peppers
- 4 big (fist sized) tomatoes or 6 - 8 smaller ones
The process is pretty much the same as in the one before. Be careful, though: usually red tomatoes will burn easier than the green ones, so don't be afraid to turn them around before you get a brown spot.
- If you're handling jalapeños with your bare hands, don't touch your mouth or eyes without washing them first. You don't want to test this one.
- Don't burn the peppers! Their smoke can be very irritating, You don't want to test this one either.
- If you want to tone down the hotness of your salsa, try taking out the seeds before reducing the number of peppers. This reduces the overall hotness but preserves most of the flavor
1 This process of heating up peppers is commonly known as "torear chiles" (to bullfight the chiles) because it brings out the pepper's flavors and hotness, analogous to bullfighting/annoying a bull
2 I don't actually know how much salt is good. My family taught me this recipe using "puñitos" (small fists) as a measuring unit. One puñito is a small mound of salt, maybe half an inch in diameter put into the hollow of the hand. My guesstimate is about 2 teaspoons, but it's better if you just try adding salt until you hit the sweet spot
3 Traditionally, salsas are not blended, but ground in a molcajete, which is a precolumbian mortar and pestle usually made with basaltic stone. Although it subjectively makes the salsa taste better (because of a years-long process of seasoning) molcajetes are quite heavy and not easily found outside Mexico, not to mention sometimes cumbersome. However, if you have access to a molcajete and have the time to season it and properly grind everything, I highly recommend using it. It has the advantage that flavors blend together more slowly, giving you more time to season your salsa to your liking while you're preparing it and it can last a damn long time.