Salsa lets cooks mix it up

May 1, 2013
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Looking for a saucy way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Why not pay tribute to the holiday that marks Mexico's 1862 defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla with an array of salsas?

There's no end to the possibilities for this zesty dip or condiment, and that truth was reinforced during a recent trip to Mazatlan. I took a popular cooking class on the art of making salsa. Fueled with pitchers of margaritas, we learned how to make seven types in one hour and capped the evening by learning to dance the salsa. It turned into a real party.

Salsa recipes can be fiery hot with chile peppers, tangy with tomatillos, fresh with tomatoes, tropical with fruits or even sweet enough for dessert. James Peterson, author of 'Kitchen Education: Sauces, Salsas, and Chutneys - Recipes and Techniques on Cooking, ' says salsa dishes do not follow strict rules.

Unlike a sauce that's blended, such as mayonnaise, salsa is a mixture of ingredients that you still can see after they're combined. Salsa usually is served cold or at room temperature, often is spicy and generally is made with raw vegetables and fruit. Some types of salsa feature beans and corn.

At the class, ingredients were mixed in a molcajete (Mexican-style mortar and pestle), but you can just as easily use a blender, food processor or sharp knife.

Here are some tips from Peterson:

Flavor enhancers

Peterson likes to toss in some smoky spice with chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. Salsa benefits from an acid touch and Peterson uses lime for this. To bring out flavors, add cilantro, salt and freshly ground black pepper.


Strong-flavored ingredients such as onions, chiles and garlic should be minced. Tomatoes or ripe fruits can be left chunkier.

Smooth or chunky

Blend salsa for a smooth sauce unless the recipe contains olive oil. Blending causes the olive oil to go bitter. Chop by hand if a diced look is preferred.


There are many varieties of peppers that can be used to vary the level of heat. For a mild salsa, use poblano or even bell peppers. Jalape? peppers commonly are used in salsa and can vary in level of heat. Peterson likes to include fresh and reconstituted chopped dried peppers such as chipotles to add depth to the salsa.

Roasted veggies

Peterson recommends roasting tomatoes, peppers and onions to add a new flavor dimension. The teachers in Mazatlan agree. They brush the veggies with olive oil, place them on a baking tray and roast in a 350-degree oven 24 to 30 minutes.

Keep it fresh

Salsa can be kept in the fridge for a few days, but it will taste best the day it is made. Don't freeze salsa because the tomatoes will get mushy.

Get fruity

Infuse more flavor into your salsa with papaya, mango or pineapple.

Salsa as a garnish

Use salsas to top dishes such as fish, poultry, beef and pork. Peterson recommends an acidic salsa made with tomatillos for seafood. Meats work well with salsa flavored with herbs.


Tangy Salsa Verde


Yield: 2 cups

1-3 cloves roasted garlic

1/4 white onion roasted, chopped

1/2 to 1 serrano chile (remove seeds for milder salsa)

4 roasted tomatillos


Grind the garlic in the molcajete, add chile, onions, tomatoes, a pinch of cilantro, salt and a few drops of lime juice

Continue mashing until well blended.

Source: Salsa and Salsa cooking class in Mazatlan, Mexico

Pico de Gallo


Yield: 2 cups

2 roma tomatoes

1/2 white onion diced

1/2 jalapeno, de-seeded and diced

Pinch of cilantro, lime juice and salt to taste


Mix all ingredients together then separate into two bowls

To one of the bowls, add a few drops of lime, pinch of cilantro, salt to taste.

Source: Salsa and Salsa cooking class in Mazatlan, Mexico

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