I have been throwing a lot of birthday parties the past few weeks, so having all these ripe (and yes, overripe) tomatoes around has come real handy 😀 But I have been making this salsa on regular nights as well, because it’s so quick to whip up and, with some corn chips, it is the perfect pre-dinner snack – satisfying without being too filling – and if you have any left come dinner time, it is perfect on fried chicken!
To be honest, before I had the pleasure to work with my Mexican friends, my idea of salsa was a cold and real vinegary yet sweet soup that comes in a jar. Something you put out in a bowl for a party and then forget in your fridge where it migrates all the way to the back and starts a mold farm… yuck. The best part with making your own salsa is that you control the amount you make. Even if you make a bit too much, it will keep in the fridge for a few days. Although I could write a whole post about Mexican food I find this recipe embodies its essential qualities – fresh, light and real hot.
This summer I have been using small, orange tomatoes, which are sweeter and tend to be on the mushy side (this was the only other variety we managed to grow besides the five cherry tomato plants!).
Traditional Mexican salsas (which means sauce by the way) are usually made in stone bowls called molcajetes, basically a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar I strongly suggest you get one – they are so useful. You don’t have to spend a lot if you shop around a bit. I got mine in Chinatown for 15$ and it’s huge. If you live in Montreal, there are also a lot of little kitchen supply stores on St-Laurent or Parc Ave. I saw a nice pestle and mortar that looks like a molcajete for 25$ on St-Laurent below Pins the other day. Ok, say you don’t have one. You can make a perfect salsa by fine-dicing your ingredients (which you should do anyway) and mixing them with a whisk or even a potato masher. Just a fine-dice will turn really saucy after you season anyway – this I think is called salsa cruda – and it is amazing with empanadas, chicken, pulled pork or whatever. Also, this salsa is basically and simply “pico de gallo” or the rooster’s beak, the base in much of Mexican cuisine, that I have pulped to a sauce. But that’s what makes it simple! (I also use this as the base for guacamole… but shhh, don’t tell anyone 😉
- Tomatoes – if you are making a traditional salsa, you can use really ripe ones. If you want a salsa cruda, or guac, use the firmer ones. For a two person, pre-dinner salsa, I would use 2-3 small tomatoes. For a 4-5 person party mix, about 7 small tomatoes. Also, as always, just use your judgement. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seed pulp (I sometimes scoop ’em out with a spoon and eat them like oysters, rather than waste them. But you can always add it to your stock-bucket). Then dice, even if you intend to pulp the heck out of them, dice so that the skin pieces aren’t too big.
- Jalapeño – always use fresh, green hot peppers, preferably jalapeños. Here I am using green finger peppers, because that’s all I could find. They give off a paprika flavour and can burn off the roof of your mouth, so I am only using about a 1/4th of a “finger” without the seeds. Typically, about a teaspoon of fine diced pepper, in my house. Again, you choose how hot you want it. You really don’t want to use red peppers here, it’s not the same.
- Cilantro – aka coriander leaves, fresh, not the seeds, or dried. I have made salsa without it, and it’s fine, just use an extra shot of lime. But this is an essential part of the trinity in Mexican cuisine. Cilantro tends to be sandy, so dunk the whole bunch in the sink with cold water, or the amount you wish to use. For a small amount like this, just snip off a few or five ends, rinse, pat dry, scrunch up on the cutting board and dice. Should end up being about tablespoon of diced herb. You know, use as desired 😀
- Lime. I have heard that in Mexico lemons are considered “junk” fruit, and only limes are good enough to cook with. I have used lemons in salsas and guacs but if you really want a salsa that will impress, you need lime. It has a perfume and a floweriness that can’t be replaced. For a recipe of this size, I’ll use a bit less than half a lime. First I squeeze a bit onto the onion dice, to cut the bite, then I add the rest as I am mixing and pulping the salsa.
- Yellow onion – always choose the firm onions with skins still on them. Use a bit less than half a small onion for a 3 small tomatoes. To get a nice, fine dice: make a horizontal incision, then slice “piano keys” against the grain, leaving the root. Like this:
Now you can just put all the ingredients in the bowl or the mortar, season with salt and pepper and start pounding. But I am of the belief that the order that you mix things will change the outcome. So I would add the jalapeño in first, with the onion and a shot of lime, give that a pestle, add the cilantro about a 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, mix them good, and then add the diced tomatoes. In one version, I also added some diced pineapple I had leftover in the fridge: it made a nice, sweet salsa, that still packed a punch. I am sure you could do the same with mango, papaya, or any other exotic fleshy fruit. Pound until you get the desired sauciness. Dip, eat, enjoy!