I don’t even want to talk about how many kinds of salsa there are or what’s authentic or whatever. There are too many kinds and too many opinions. I want to talk about the ubiquitous red condiment that, with chips, graces the tables of Mexican restaurants across America.
My version of restaurant style salsa is focused on practicality, real ingredients, and especially flavor. It doesn’t make enough to feed a freaking army (though it doubles and triples beautifully) and it doesn’t have any weird “secret” ingredients, but it’s still adaptable enough for personalization – as salsa should be.
There are three tastes that need to be balanced in any good salsa: heat, acid, and bite. Bite is the word I’m using for the kind of heat that hits your sinuses but doesn’t linger on your tongue. In this recipe, jalapeno brings heat, lime brings acid, and raw onion and raw garlic bring bite.
Pulse together a quarter of a raw onion, half of a seeded jalapeno, and one small clove of garlic until minced. If you know you like things hot, go for a whole jalapeno or leave the seeds in. If you know you like onion, or if your onion is very mild, use a third to half of it.
Once the base of onion, garlic, and jalapeno is thoroughly mulched, squeeze in about half a lime, throw in a small handful of cilantro, and a pinch or two of salt with one standard 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained. If tomatoes are abundant, ripe, and in season (which they will be soon!), use fresh, but if they are anything but perfectly ripe, stick with canned. Canned tomatoes will taste better than grey, mealy, unripe tomatoes any day. I’m actually partial to canned tomatoes in salsa because they are more restaurant-like.
Mix everything together in the food processor and taste it.
This is the time to make adjustments. If you want more salt or lime, or cilantro, add it now. If you want more heat or bite, make sure you give your jalapeno or onion a little dice before you add them, or you’ll end up with big nasty chunks floating in a near-puree, which would be bad.
If you want to be fancy, fry some tortillas and make your own chips. If you want to hack it, warm some nice, thin store-bought chips in the oven. If you have no patience for such nonsense, by all means crack a bag and eat.
I don’t need to tell you how this was made for cold coke and hot sun.
Here’s a break-down for your convenience:
In a food processor, pulse together until minced:
1/4 – 1/2 raw onion (closer to 1/4 if it’s strong, more if it’s sweet)
1/2 jalapeno, seeded (more if you like it hot, or leave the seeds)
1 small clove of garlic
1 standard 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained (I’m partial to Del Monte petite cut with Jalapeno)
1 small handful cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime
A few pinches of salt
Adjust to your liking by adding jalapeno for more heat, lime for more acid, and onion for more bite. Don’t forget the flavors will develop as the salsa sits, so try to make it a few minutes before it’s time to eat. If you can’t though, it’s not exactly going to break it, so just eat.
Need more chips and dips? How ’bout: