SALSA: TOMATOES, CILANTRO & CHILIES
Walk down the Mexican food isle of any grocery store and you will probably see at least a dozen different kinds of Salsa. Salsa which is a well-known Mexican condiment is just one of many types of sauces that are used by cultures around the world. Salsa, a favorite in Mexico and the South Western portion of the United States is made with Tomatoes, Garlic, Cilantro, Lime Juice, Salt, sometimes Onions and of course Chilies.
It is relatively easy to make your own Salsa and the happy result is Salsa the way you like it. Some like it hot and some like it mild and some like it in between. My favorite is Salsa Cruda and I don’t put onions in it. Salsa Cruda is made from raw vegetables: I just use diced Tomatoes, Cilantro, Garlic, Lime Juice, Salt and a small amount of Jalapeno Chilies. When the Chilies are diced and you can see the pieces, believe it or not, they won’t impart as much heat (unless of course you bite into one) as when the Chili is finely minced. One Chili finely minced has the heat equivalent of at least 2 or 3 diced Chilies.
There are cooked Salsas as well as raw ones. The cooked are usually more of a sauce in which you cannot necessarily see each individual ingredients whereas in Salsa Cruda, you know exactly what is in it. The cooked ones are usually made with chilies and tomatillos which look like little green tomatoes.
Cilantro which is a popular ingredient in Salsa is used widely throughout the world. In the Western World it is called Cilantro and in the Eastern part of the World it is called Coriander. They are both the same herb. At one time in the United States, Cilantro was also known as Chinese Parsley and it does belong to the parsley family.
In Argentina, a popular condiment is known as Chimichurri Sauce and no one in Argentina would think of serving a meal without Chimichurri on the table. Chimichurri is made with parsley, garlic, Olive Oil, Salt and Vinegar. It is not hot like salsa can be, but it certainly can be pungent because of the garlic. Every restaurant and every family has their own version of Chimichurri; there are probably as many versions of Chimichurri as there are Salsas.
Salsa is made in many forms. It usually is made with tomatoes but it can also be made with just onions and cilantro as the main ingredients; there is mango salsa, peach salsa, and pineapple salsa.
Chilies which are popularly used in salsa are Jalapenos and Serranos. Jalapenos are hot but they have more of a tang than the absolute hot heat that the Serranos have. As a rule, the smaller the chili, the hotter it is. When you are handling Chilies you need to be careful because once you get the capsaicin (the heat element in chilies) on your fingers it is very difficult to get off and you need to be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, mouth or other bodily orifices. It is best to use gloves when handling the chilies. The hottest portions of the chili are the seeds and the ribs inside.
Salsa or its equivalent is a dish with never-ending possibilities. It is delicious and can be made hot or not, depending on the taste buds of the person preparing it or who it is being prepared for. Try your hand at making your own version of salsa. Be original and don’t think you have to stick to any format. You never know what you may come up with! Maybe the next great condiment! Be sure and use the correct tools when preparing your Salsa. A small paring knife will come in handy for removing the seeds and ribs from the Chilies (the seeds and ribs are where all the heat is). A cutting board is a must for dicing your vegetables and a rubber mat or damp towel to put under the cutting board is also an important tool. The mat or damp towel will keep the board from slipping and sliding when you are dicing your vegetables and thereby avoid injury. Your garlic can either be minced with your paring knife or you can use a garlic press.
Try the recipes in our appetizer section and then after you do, create your own variations. More Cilantro, Onions if you want, more garlic, more lime juice and for the adventurous more chilies! Salsa does need some salt, but be careful! Too much can ruin your product. Enjoy creating and eating your salsa. Salsa can be served as an appetizer with chips or vegetables or it can be used as a salad dressing or a condiment for your meat dishes. Try one or two of the recipes below. The country next to the name is where it originated.
Salsa Cruda – Mexico
Mango Relish – Tropics
Chimichurri Sauce – Argentina