How to Make Salsa from Scratch

Learn how to make authentic Mexican salsa at home with some helpful tips I learned while in Mexico. Plus find the recipes for three of my new favorite salsas— spicy salsa verde, chunky tomato and roasted poblano salsa, and toasted guajillo-ancho salsa.

How to Make Salsa From Scratch, completelydelicious.com

While visiting Mexico and the Riviera Maya, my mother-in-law and I spent a day at The Little Mexican Cooking School in the town of Puerto Morelos. It was hard choosing to spend time away from the beach, but it turned out to be one of most rewarding experiences of our whole trip.

Chef Alfonso taught us all about chili peppers, the different kinds— both fresh and dried, and then moved right on to using them in combination with other ingredients to create an unlimited variety of authentic Mexican salsas.

The Little Mexican Cooking School The Little Mexican Cooking School
The Little Mexican Cooking School
The Little Mexican Cooking School

We all had the chance to make our own salsa, each of us using a different combination of ingredients to create a salsa tailored to our own preferences. Chef Alfonso assisted, helping us crack the chili pepper code and encouraging us to really connect our senses to what we were making.

Chef Alfonso taught us to build any salsa by following these simple guidelines:

How to Make Salsa From Scratch, completelydelicious.com

Choose your combination of ingredients

What kind of salsa do you like? What color do you want it to be? How spicy? These are all questions you should ask yourself as you being salsa making.

Generally, salsas start with tomatoes and/or tomatillos. Then you can add to that a chili pepper or assortment of chilis, like jalapeno, serrano, ancho, chipotle, etc. If you have never made homemade salsa with a dried chili, I highly recommend giving it a try. You can find whole dried chilis at your local Mexican market or Mexican section of your grocery store.

Other common salsa ingredients are onions and garlic, and herbs like cilantro. You can use as many or as few ingredients as you like. The salsa I made in class had only 4 ingredients and it blew my mind.

How to Make Salsa From Scratch, completelydelicious.com

Cook your ingredients individually

Leave the ingredients whole or cut them into large chunks. It makes prep easier and they’re all being mashed or blended anyway. Saute all of your ingredients (including the chilis) individually over medium heat in a non-stick pan without oil, as oil will change the flavor. Cooking them individually keeps their individual flavors intact.

You can also choose to leave your ingredients raw. Remember, you can make your own salsa any way you like! Cook them all, leave them all raw, or maybe just cook some, it’s up to you.

How to Make Salsa From Scratch, completelydelicious.com

Mash or blend your salsa

In the class we built our salsas with a mortar and pestle. It is a little time consuming and requires some serious elbow grease, but I think it’s something everyone should try at least once. It slows it down and helps you appreciate the process.

For all those other times, a food processor comes in handy.

How to Make Salsa From Scratch, completelydelicious.com

Blend your salsa completely, or pulse in short bursts to to leave it chunky, it’s up to you.

Taste and adjust

Add salt and pepper and then take a taste and see what you think. Is it not spicy enough? Does it need more cilantro? Go ahead and make any adjustments to your liking.

How to Make Salsa From Scratch, completelydelicious.com

And that’s it! Final step, grab some chips and dig in!

Read on to find recipes for a few new salsas I’ve created since leaving Mexico. The salsa verde is from Chef Alfonso, but the others are all mine.

How to Make Salsa From Scratch, completelydelicious.com
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Spicy Salsa Verde

Yield: 2 cups

Spicy Salsa Verde

Ingredients

  • 1 small white onion, sliced into large chunks
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 jalapeno chili
  • 1 lb (450 grams) tomatillos, sliced in half
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a non-stick pan over medium heat, cook the onions until tender and caramelized, about 7 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Cook the garlic and whole jalapeno in the pan until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Cook the tomatillos until tender, about 7-10 minutes.
  2. Remove the stem and seeds from the jalapeno. Puree all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add salt to taste.
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Chunky Tomato and Roasted Poblano Salsa

Yield: Makes 1 1/2 cups

Chunky Tomato and Roasted Poblano Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 1 lb (450 grams) tomatoes, quartered and seeds removed
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Place the poblano pepper directly on the flame of a gas stove burner or on a grill set on high. Blacken the pepper completely, then place in a closed plastic bag. Let the poblano rest in the bag for at least 15 minutes, during this time the steam will loosen the skin. Remove the pepper from the bag and use your hands to rub and remove the charred skin. Do not rinse in water. Remove stem and seeds and cut into large chunks.
  2. Place the poblano chunks in the food processor with the tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper. Pulse in short bursts until the tomatoes have been reduced to small chunks. Add more salt to taste, if necessary.
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Toasted Guajillo-Ancho Salsa

Yield: 1 1/2 cup

Toasted Guajillo-Ancho Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 guajillo pepper
  • 1 ancho pepper
  • 1/2 lb (455 grams) tomatillos, halved
  • 1/2 lb (455 grams) tomatoes, quartered and seeds removed
  • 2 tablespoon cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  1. In a non-stick pan over medium heat, toast the peppers until fragrant, about 1 minute per side. Remove from pan and set aside. Cook the tomatillos until tender, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Cook the tomatoes until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Use tongs to pick out the tomato skins.
  2. Give the peppers a rough chop, removing the stem and seeds, if desired. Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional salt to taste.

Note: look for dried guajillo and ancho peppers at your local Mexican market or Mexican section of the grocery store.

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