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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.