A Study in Salsa
with Suzanne Klein
Chief Yummy Officer
chiles chimichurri herbs holiday Mexican salsa tomato
On the heels of Cinco de Mayo, we couldn’t help but spend some time talking about everyone’s favorite Latin condiment…salsa! Classically, salsa is a combination of chiles, tomatoes, and spices. Aztec, Mayan, and Inca cultures used their special sauce as a condiment for turkey, fish, and venison. When the Spanish conquered Mexico in the mid 1500s, they discovered tomatoes and fell in love with the sauce they ultimately named “salsa”. Across Mexico, salsa evolved into different recipes based on regional ingredients and taste.
Most Mexican salsas fall into one of these three categories:
- Salsa roja: A classic red sauce made with tomatoes, chiles, onions, and cilantro. Some rojas are blended until smooth or even cooked. Some are raw and full of freshly diced vegetables, like the classic pico de gallo. In fact, guacamole is simply a version of pico de gallo with avocado tossed in.
- Salsa verde: A bright green sauce made from a base of tomatillos instead of red tomatoes.
- Salsa negra: A rich, dark salsa made from a base of dried chiles. Mole actually falls into this category. While mole recipes vary by region, many feature dried chiles and chocolate.
“Salsa” is a generic term for a condiment that can be used as a dip for chips or as a topping for all kinds of dishes. Different regions of the world have their own versions of the Mexican-born sauce using a variety of ingredients based on local food sources and classic cultural preparation. Many salsas can be categorized by base ingredient, whether it’s tomatoes, fruits, veggies, herbs, or chiles.
Tomatoes: This classic Mexican salsa base still reigns today as the most popular. Made with a red tomatoes or green tomatillos, tomato-based salsas range from smooth to chunky and pair well with spicy and tangy ingredients. Salsa brava is the spicy Spanish salsa featuring vinegar and paprika. Picante is the thinner consistency bottled salsa typical of the U.S., available in a range of heat from mild to medium to hot depending on the amount and type of chile added. Our Fire Roasted Salsa recipe is somewhere between thin and thick and mirrors the classic salsa roja you’d find tableside at many Mexican-style restaurants.
Fruits & Veggies: From pineapple to mango and cucumber to corn, fruit or vegetable salsas can be a refreshing counterpart to spicy tomato salsas. The sweet, tangy and sometimes creamy aspects of many fruits pair very well with the heat from fresh or dried chiles as well as with aromatics like onions and herbs. Our favorite example of this is in our recipe for Mango Urfa Salsa, where the heat from Urfa crushed red pepper pairs with the sweet tanginess of the mango.
Herbs: In regions around the world, from Africa to the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, herbs are blended with vinegar or citrus and oil, onion, and garlic to create salsa. Mojo is a classic Caribbean salsa featuring garlic, olive oil, and citrus juice, and is used as both a marinade and finishing sauce for meats, fish, and vegetables. Chimichurri, a vinegar-based salsa with fresh parsley, onion, garlic, and oregano is mainly used as a condiment for meat in Argentina. Our Chimichurri Steak & Dressing Marinade is a dried version of the classic herb salsa and is especially delicious on grilled meats, as demonstrated in our recipe for Gaucho Chops.
Chiles: Heat seekers usually go straight for a chile-based salsa. But chiles have a wide range of flavor profiles: smoky, sweet, earthy, fruity, and just plain hot. Piri piri (Swahili for “pepper pepper”) is a hot and spicy Portuguese condiment, comprised of the African bird’s eye chile, vinegar, tomato, onion, garlic, and citrus juice. Harissa is a fire-y hot condiment that can be found on almost every North African table and is used on everything from kebabs to couscous to chickpeas. Our recipe for a Trio of Roasted Jalapeño Salsas is a nod to a more traditional Mexican inspired chile salsa. It’s a base recipe that you can flavor in three totally different ways depending on the spice blends you choose. We like it best with Cook County Charcoal Seasoning (featuring smoky chipotle), Peruvian Chile Lime Seasoning (featuring fruity and citrus-y Aji Amarillo), and Siesta Key Spanish Sazon (featuring a blend of herb, garlic, and annatto).
Spice up your summer and make your own study of salsa by experimenting with different salsa bases and the myriad of different seasonings to support them.
For more salsa ideas, search "salsa" in the Recipe section of our website.
For more education about how to use Savory products, browse the articles in the Features section of our website.