Homemade Salsa Recipes

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These homemade salsa recipes are easy to make and delicious to eat.
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The Sensational Salsas book cover.

Learn how to make these homemade salsa recipes and tools and tips for making fresh salsa.

How to Make Salsa

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Homemade Salsa Recipes

Kick the gray right out of winter with flavorful, colorful salsas that are amazingly easy to create. Artful combinations of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices unite to form a harmonious blend of flavors and colors that delight the palate and complement a variety of dishes.

The words sauce and salsa, which English borrowed from French and Spanish, originally came from the Latin word salsus, meaning “salted.” Salt is still an important ingredient in most salsas, although modern cooks often try to reduce salt intake. Most packaged chips contain more than enough salt, so the flavor remains when the chips are dipped.

Salsa in various forms has been around for hundreds of years. A neighbor of mine, who travels back and forth to Brazil, brought me an unfamiliar herb and a handful of pepper seeds that the indigenous people living deep in the Brazilian rain forest had given him. They told him that the pepper and the accompanying herb were both traditional ingredients in an ancient salsa made by their Mayan ancestors. Unfortunately, the salsa recipe didn’t accompany the seeds, but I’ve had fun trying to create this very old dish without it.

Ketchup used to hold the honor of most popular table condiment, but in recent years, salsa sales have surpassed ketchup’s, and there are literally hundreds of brands of salsa on grocery store shelves.

Many people only think of salsas made with tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, onion and garlic, but salsa doesn’t have to contain a single tomato—and many don’t. And during these winter months when it’s virtually impossible to get a flavorful tomato, that’s a major plus. Luckily, you can make delicious salsas out of a wide range of vegetables and fruits.

Zucchini salsa is a great example. This vegetable is available year-round in most supermarkets, and it combines well with a wide range of other great salsa vegetables, such as jicama, sweet bell peppers, garlic and lime. Or you can make salsa from fruits, such as apples, grapes, kiwi, strawberries, bananas, melons or mangos.

If you think it might be easier to just pop open a jar from the grocery, I would guess you have never tasted good homemade salsa. It’s not much trouble to make, and the flavor is incomparable. If you can push the button on a food processor, then you can make salsa in minutes.

Tools to Make Salsa Easily

Some years back, I bought a hand-cranked food processor from a demonstrator’s booth at the state fair—you know, the kind of display where the guy is slicing and dicing and amazing you with his skills while he talks nonstop over his low-wattage microphone. My first thought when I saw this man was that he had his work cut out for him, selling this “toy” food processor. It was nothing but a plastic bowl with a lid and a crank that turned a little blade inside.

Because I’m the kind of cook who always wants the food processor with the biggest motor (and who has worn out a larger commercial model and is working on the second one), I figured this toy was useless and nearly walked away.

But I watched the man as he chattered his well-rehearsed spiel, claiming that anyone in the audience could make a bowl of salsa in a minute or less. As he bantered with the audience, he threw a couple of quartered tomatoes into the bowl. Then he added a clove of garlic, a small handful of cilantro, some lime juice and a hot chile, closed the lid and gave the little crank five turns.

In literally less than a minute he had made, and emptied out, a bowl full of fresh salsa right before our eyes. He added chips and passed around the bowl for everyone to taste. The result was a fresh salsa so simple and tasty you couldn’t even compare it with anything from a jar. I was hooked, and shelled out $12.95 plus tax for my first hand-cranked food processor.

I can grab the little gizmo when guests arrive, and by the time they’ve walked through the front door I’m pouring out a bowl of fresh salsa for their refreshment. I now have three of these hand-cranked food processors and use them when I give salsa workshops for herb groups around the country. (The little hand-cranked food processors are also available for about $10 at several of the “box” stores, such as Target, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, etc.)

But even if you use an electric food processor, it’s a simple process to make any salsa. If you’re using an electric processor, just be sure to barely pulse-blend the ingredients to avoid overprocessing. If you overprocess, you will get something closer to sauce than salsa. Good salsa is chunky.

We also think of salsa as primarily a summer food: good with hamburgers and hot dogs, at parties after a baseball game, or at a picnic. And salsa is certainly great for all of those. But salsa is also outstanding for other uses, as well. For example, pineapple salsa is wonderful on top of grilled fish. A spicy tomato salsa is perfect for topping a hamburger cooked inside in the winter. Think salsa for Thanksgiving. Why not serve cranberry salsa with the roast turkey? How about raspberry salsa served as a side dish to baked pork chops? Peach ginger salsa makes a perfect accompaniment to baked chicken, and papaya salsa goes great with Cajun blackened fish. The possibilities are endless, so give up the idea of salsa as just a tomato dish to go with chips and start cooking!

Tips for Making Salsa

• Always use the freshest ingredients.

• For hotter salsa, leave the seeds of the peppers in; for milder salsa, remove seeds before adding to the salsa.

• Make salsa a few hours before serving so the flavors will blend together.

• Nearly all salsa recipes call for an acid, such as lime or lemon juice or vinegar, which helps preserve the fruit or vegetables and keeps them from turning brown. Use freshly squeezed juice instead of bottled juice for the best flavor.

• Some people don’t like the taste of cilantro, although if you use it wisely it isn’t a prominent flavor once the other ingredients are mixed in. If you are strongly against cilantro, use a recipe that calls for an herb other than cilantro. Alternate choices are basil, lemon basil, mint, oregano and others.

See the homemade salsa recipes at the top of this article.

Jim Long lives and works in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. His newest book, Sensational Salsas, is available through Long Creek Herbs (www.longcreekherbs.com). Order it by calling (417) 779-5450.

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