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Fresh Homemade Mexican Salsa: Traditional and Unusual Recipes and Ingredients

Updated on August 11, 2011

Mexican Salsa - Spicy, Sweet or Tangy

The term "salsa" covers a wide variety of tasty meal additions. It literally translates as "sauce," and you can put it on meats and veggies or use it as a dip for your chips. Whatever you do with your salsa, it's sure to spice up your meal. Read on to learn how to create your very own special salsa. Be the culinary star at parties.

What Makes a Good Salsa?

Photo courtesy of Flickr and sonicwalker.

I prefer fresh, uncooked salsa. This is known as salsa fresca or salsa crude. I love that fresh-out-of-the-garden taste. You can also cook or roast your ingredients to get a sweeter, deeper flavor. Puree or not, it's up to you.

You can make a fine salsa out of lots of different foods. Use this guide to develop your own signature salsa:

BASE - Tomatoes or tomatillos are the most common base ingredient for salsa, but you can use lots of different fruits or vegetables. You want a food for the base that contains some moisture. Try melon, mango, papaya, pineapple, peaches, plums, avocados or cucumbers. Think juicy. Ask yourself if the food would puree fairly smoothly (even if you don't plan to puree it).

TEXTURE AND VARIETY - Do you want your salsa to have some crunch or an additional flavor? Add green pepper, corn, radishes, black beans or something else from the base category.

SASS - Onions, garlic and jalapenos are my favorites when it comes to adding a bit of bite to salsa. Of course there are a lot of different kinds of chiles, many much hotter than the jalapeno. I know people who just shake some cayenne powder into the mix, but that's not the right kind of spicy, as far as I'm concerned. Use fresh garlic if you can, powdered if you must, but don't skip the garlic (I've just reconsidered that last comment. I really don't know how well peach or pineapple goes with garlic, but if you are using tomatoes, for goodness sake, use the garlic!).

TANG- Lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, white wine, balsamic vinegar...

HERBS AND SEASONINGS - In my opinion, you can't beat cilantro. Cilantro seems to be one of those flavors that you love or you hate. My mother says it tastes like soap, but I love the stuff and use it in a lot of my cooking in addition to salsa.

Salt is also critical to making the flavors "bloom." Try it sometime without salt and you'll know exactly what I mean.

Other possible seasonings might include cumin, oregano, mint and anything else you might have at hand. Experiment with your herbs. Salsa should be playful, so try new combinations. Sprinkle a bit of herb on your base and see how it tastes.

Photo courtesy of Flickr and Luke Wisley

6 large tomatoes, chopped finely

1 large onion, chopped finely

1-2 jalapenos, seeds and membranes removed, diced

1 15-oz. can whole kernel corn, drained

1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained

2-4 cloves garlic, finely diced

juice from one lime

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and enjoy with tortilla chips or just eat it with a spoon.

Your Salsa Glossary

SALSA ROJA "red sauce" used as a condiment in Mexican and southwestern U.S. cuisine, and usually made with cooked tomatoes, chili peppers, onion, garlic, and fresh cilantro.

SALSA CRUDA "raw sauce", also known as pico de gallo or salsa fresca made with raw tomatoes, lime juice, chiles, onions, cilantro leaves, and other coarsely chopped raw ingredients.

SALSA VERDE "green sauce" made with tomatillos. Sauces made with tomatillos are usually cooked.

SALSA RANCHERA "ranch-style sauce" made with tomatoes, various chiles, and spices. Served warm.

Know Your Chiles

Know Your Chiles
Know Your Chiles

Photo courtesy of Flickr and Rowen Atkinson

You can't have salsa without chiles. In fact, in parts of Mexico, the word salsa describes a sauce made mainly of ground chiles.

The heat in chiles comes from a chemical called capsaicin. The amount of heat in a particular kind of chile is measured in Scoville Units, ranging from 0 Units (no heat) to over 1,000,000 Scoville Units (Are You Crazy?!). Remember, however, that this measurement is an average, and individual chiles will vary a great deal. Pepper spray is about 2,000,000 SU's and pure capsaicin is about 15,000,000 SU's.

You can try to tame the heat in a couple of ways. Most of the capsaicin is in the seeds and the white membrane. Remove these and your chiles will be a little less hot. Roasting the chiles also sometimes will make your chiles more mild.

Because of the capsaicin, you have to be very careful when handling chiles. "Irritating" doesn't really describe what happens when you touch your eye (for me, anywhere on my face) after handling chiles. Just wear gloves, and STILL wash your hands really well after handling those hot mamas.

Here is a short list with descriptions of chiles that you might find at your grocery store.

Anaheim chile - 500 - 2000 Scoville Units. About 6 inches long, mild and thick-walled. Tough skin peels off easily after roasting. Good for chile rellenos. These are often the chiles that you find canned, labeled as green chiles. They have a mild flavor, and can be added to eggs, soups, or casseroles. As with most chiles, roasting deepens and intensifies the flavor.

Banana pepper - Very low Scoville Units. Two to 3 inches long. Sweet and very mild. Tasty in salads, soups, salsas and appetizers.

Poblano Chile - 1000 - 2000 Scoville Units. One of the most popular chile in Mexico. Large, heart-shaped chile. Very mild flavor and thick skin. Good for stuffing. You can roast or char and peel off the tough outer skin. Tasty in mole, breaded and fried, and in sauces.

Yellow Wax Pepper - 2,000 - 5,000 Scoville Units. Moderately hot. Four to 6 inches in length. Looks like a banana pepper but hotter. Good in salads, salsas and pickled.

Mirasol Pepper - 2,500 - 5,000 Scoville Units. Moderately hot with an fruity flavor that goes well with chicken, potatoes and pork.

Jalapeno Pepper - 2,500 - 8,000 Scoville Units. Moderately hot with a rich flavor. Smoked jalapenos are called chipotles. Prized for their quick heat, they can be used as appetizers, in salsas, jellies and in meat sauces.

Serrano Pepper - 5,000 - 23,000 Scoville Units. Very hot. Slender and thin-walled. Excellent in salsas, and good in sauces when roasted.

Cayenne Pepper - 30,000 - 50,000 Scoville Units. Large, wrinkly and slender. Most often ground into powder. One chile equals 1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder. Very hot. Use it to add heat to your dish. Also prized for its medicinal uses.

Thai chiles - 80,000 - 100,000 Scoville Units. Small, slender and extremely hot. Used to make curry paste and used whole in Thai and Indian dishes. I don't recommend this for salsa.

Habanero Pepper - 100,000 - 350,000 Scoville Units. Extremely hot with fruity flavor and apricot aroma. Use to make HOT sauces.

Scotch Bonnet Pepper - 100,000 - 325,000 Scoville Units. Small, rounded chile popular in the Caribbean. Gives jerk dishes their characteristic flavor. Extremely hot. Wikipedia article says, "Eaten raw, these peppers are also known to cause dizziness, numbness of hands, lips and cheeks, and severe heartburn."

Read about The World's Hottest Chile

Photos in this section courtesy of The Cooks Thesaurus

Tomatillos are not just green tomatoes, although both belong to the nightshade family. The fruit grows nestled in a papery husk, which turns brown and splits as the tomatillo matures.

Photo courtesy of
Flickr and kusine

Tomatillos are picked and used while firm and green. A yellow fruit is past its prime. Generally tomatillos are cooked, and they impart a tart, almost citrusy taste to foods. They are a vital ingredient in salsa verde and often included in red salsas as well. These little, green globes bring a fresh flavor to soups and stews. Tomatillos are also known as husk tomatos, jamberries, husk cherries, mexican tomatoes, or ground cherries.

Photo courtesy of Flickr and QuintanaRoo

Here are some great recipes that use tomatillos:

Tomatillo Salsa

Salsa de Tomatillo

Tomatillo Guacamole

Amy's Cilantro Cream Sauce

Authentic Enchiladas Verdes/a>

White Bean Chicken Chili

The Easiest, Fastest Salsa Recipe in the Whole World

Pretty darned good and really simple.

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

juice of 1/2 lime

1 15-oz. can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Turn on food processor or blender. Drop in garlic, then cilantro and process til finely chopped. Add lime juice and tomatoes. Pulse a couple of times for chunky salsa or a little longer for smooth salsa. That's it. It will take longer to wash the food processor than it did to make the salsa!

Best Homemade Tortilla Chips for Your Salsa

Make tortilla chips at home - cheap.


1 (12 ounce) package corn or flour tortillas

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Cut each tortilla into 8 chip sized wedges and arrange the wedges in a single layer on a cookie sheet. In a mister, combine the oil and lime juice. Mix well and spray each tortilla wedge until slightly moist. Combine the cumin, chili powder and salt in a small bowl and sprinkle on the chips. Bake for about 7 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 8 minutes or until the chips are crisp, but not too brown. Serve with salsas, garnishes or guacamole.

Great Books about Salsa

Kitchen Gear to Help You Make Salsa

Photo courtesy of Flickr and Seetz Jones

SquiDirectory - A categorized Squidoo directory featuring an interesting variety of different subjects ranging from arts and literature, shopping, and eco friendly tips, to vehicles for sale, travel, and everything in between.

Let Me Know What You Think of This Lens

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    • LluviaDeArte profile image

      LluviaDeArte 4 years ago

      Wonderful great lens. Thank you so much for writing it. Tasty.

    • tfsherman lm profile image

      tfsherman lm 5 years ago

      I'm a very jealous squid. I'm always seeing lenses I think I can one up. Not yours! I think you've created the perfect lens here. Of course, I love salsa! Great lens!

    • thegrowlinggour profile image

      thegrowlinggour 5 years ago

      Love it! Squid-like!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I would love to taste some of the great salsa stuff from Mexico.

    • Mamabyrd profile image

      Mamabyrd 5 years ago

      Great lens! I just added your lens to my black bean salsa lens!

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 6 years ago

      Nice lens

    • desa999 lm profile image

      desa999 lm 6 years ago

      Some great recipe suggestions here.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

      I am doing a lens on National Tortilla Chip Day and have added this lens. I don't want to create lenses where other lensmaster have done such a great job. Angel blessed.

    • profile image

      River_Rose 6 years ago

      Darn, I am sooo hungry for salsa and chips right now !

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Excellent lens, I'am going to make the Scotts salsa with my jalapeno today! 5*

    • profile image

      RecipePublishing 6 years ago

      Just looking at this lens made my mouth water!

    • profile image

      RecipePublishing 6 years ago

      Great salsa recipes!

    • profile image

      RecipePublishing 6 years ago

      Wow, what a treat!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This lens is so yummy, thank you! 5*

    • profile image

      mrouzo 7 years ago

      lots of info...i might try that feta salsa...sounds good.

    • Ecolicious LM profile image

      Penny Pincher G 7 years ago

      great descriptive lens. i love salsa verde

    • profile image

      Swagger1 8 years ago

      Nice, informative lens. I like fresh, uncooked salsa too.

    • profile image

      DKetterman 8 years ago

      I love Mexican food and love homemade fresh salsa. Am anxious to try some of your recipies. Thanks for the great lens.

    • profile image

      California_Dreamin 9 years ago

      Absolutely scrumptious and gorgeous lens--a feast for the eyes, and with a little effort, the belly.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      I love salsa! You have great information and recipes! I especially appreciated your chile pepper identification. I've learned to use vinyl gloves while cutting hot peppers as the oils don't just wash off easily and last for hours which could mean torture if you touch anywhere near your eyes. No wonder pepper spray is so effective!

    • profile image

      trueprosperity 9 years ago

      I love Mexican food and Salsa on mostly all of it. Great lens and very detailed and informative. 5 stars !!

    • profile image

      trueprosperity 9 years ago

      I love Mexican food and Salsa on mostly all of it. Great lens and very detailed and informative. 5 stars !!

    • caketech profile image

      caketech 9 years ago

      I absolutely love salsa! These look like some great recipes, and I will definitely be trying some of them! Thanks! 5*s

    • profile image

      CleanerLife 9 years ago

      I love salsa and spicey food, these recipes look very easy, I'll have to try them for myself!

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 9 years ago from Royalton


      In Costa Rica we learned to put salsa on rice and beans. It's a delicious way to make a healthy meal even healthier.

      Great lens! Favored and 5 stars!

    • NorDac LM profile image

      NorDac LM 9 years ago

      Great lens, I knew Habaneros were a lot hotter than jalapeños just not that much hotter.

    • estherjane13 lm profile image

      estherjane13 lm 9 years ago

      I LOVE this lens. I'm off to try out some of your tasty recipes! 5*

    • profile image

      coastingalong 9 years ago

      I am hooked on salsa so this lens hit the spot. Now to try making my own chips. Look out world. Thanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Thanks for the recipe on salsa. Salsa goes well with chips and I love salsa and chips. Now I can make them both homeade. Watching movies or football games will be a whole lot better now.

      Thank you again


    • beempa lm profile image

      beempa lm 9 years ago

      Such a pretty colorful lens! Great job! :)

    • ArtSiren LM profile image

      ArtSiren LM 9 years ago

      This is an awesome lens! I especially love the compendium of chilies/chillies/chiles (*delete as appropriate) ;)

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      I love salsa! great lens!

    • profile image

      oknowgo 9 years ago

      I can tell you from experience that Scott's salsa recipe is slap-yo-mama good! Of course, I had to MARRY him to get beeobrien the recipe. Scott is so flattered to be a famous internet salsa phenom. You did forget one ingredient... love. He puts it in every batch. (That's why the old ladies at the party eat it up with a spoon!)

    • profile image

      BeccaFletcher 9 years ago

      Oh, so not fair to make me hungry after midnight! I'm SO making salsa tomorrow!! :-)

    • profile image

      WesJefferson 9 years ago

      Now this is just unfair. I'm stuck at work and happen to see this! Only 3 hours to go...Please update this often as you add new recipes.

    • jeffshy profile image

      jeffshy 9 years ago

      Great lens, and now I have a tasty project for the day.

    • CherylK profile image

      Cheryl Kohan 9 years ago from Minnesota

      This is a Fab.u.lous lens! Love the salsa recipes; love the links; love the pictures. Five huge stars!

    • profile image

      MichelleJohnson09 9 years ago

      All I can say is Yum! I love salsa and have been contemplating making my own. I am especially interested in making some salsa verde, love that stuff! I am a total foodie and love to cook so I'm going to check out your other pages too! :)

    • ShannonC LM profile image

      Shannon Chiarenza 9 years ago from Vancouver bc

      Great lens...I LOVE salsa, can't wait to try some of these recipes!

    • profile image

      alicesy 9 years ago

      Excellent Lens. I like the quality insight you have provided here about Create Your Own Signature Salsa. Keep up the good work.

      Please check out my Police Jobs Blog.

    • Monica Ranstrom profile image

      Monica Ranstrom 9 years ago

      Thanks for all the great ideas! I make a great salsa with black beans, corn, red pepper, cilantro, lime, green onions and balsamic vinegar! It has become my signature salsa! I like it best with Fritos scoops. Hard to stop eating. I'll be trying some of the ideas you have here.

    • banquetmanager lm profile image

      banquetmanager lm 9 years ago

      I never cared for salsa until a married a "latina" and she corrected my taste-buds. Great site, thanks.

      So You Want To Be a Banquet Manager

    • profile image

      enslavedbyfaeries 9 years ago

      My mouth is watering! I love homemade salsa and can't wait to give your recipes a try. Beautifully done, as always! 5*

    • Sniff It Out profile image

      Sniff It Out 9 years ago

      What a great lens! Lots of information and great photos! I am going to make one of these salsas tonight to accompany my tandoori chicken... but which one? :) 5 stars to you

    • Piksychick profile image

      Piksychick 9 years ago

      OMG, I love salsa! My favorites are the spicy tomato variety with lots of kick and mango (oh, how I love mango). Beautiful lens with lots of great photos. Good job!

    • Verto profile image

      Verto 9 years ago

      Wow great info! Reading your lenses is making me HUNGRY

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 9 years ago

      We're growing lots of tomatoes and peppers this summer. I can't wait to make fresh salsa. Welcome to Culinary Favorites From A to Z. I'm also giving your gorgeous lens a Squid Angel Blessing!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 9 years ago from USA

      Excellent Lens!

    • profile image

      tdove 9 years ago

      You can sure do a lot with salsa. Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 10 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I too am a huge fan of cilantro! My hubby says I overdo it in the salsa. But I adore the flavor!

    • profile image

      coastingalong 10 years ago

      This is a fantastic lens about salsa. I have just started eating it and can't stop(but I will.) I am going to try my own now that you have given some ideas here. Thanks

    • profile image

      chocolatepodcafe 10 years ago

      My husband claims to make the best salsa ever. I don't know if that's true but everyone who tries it thinks it's absolutely fantastic. I am sending him this link, because I think he will get a kick out of reading all of this info. Great lens, btw. I love your layout and all the pics.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 10 years ago

      I just finished canning 150 pounds of tomatoes. Half of that was made into salsa. Homemade salsa makes wonderful housewarming gifts, Christmas gifts etc.

      Great lens


    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 10 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Wow this is a wonderful lens. I just love salsa, especially fresh ones. Had a great pineapple and cilantro one once that was really nice. Not only have you given lots of information an dideas here, you brought them to life with mouth-watering pictures and descriptions too. I can almost taste the results. Fantastic job. 5*****

    • funwithtrains lm profile image

      funwithtrains lm 10 years ago

      Another great lens!

    • Angelina Gherna profile image

      Angelina 10 years ago from California

      Beautiful lens...really good layout and truly amazing pics...I love salsa, I could eat it everyday!!!

    • Angelina Gherna profile image

      Angelina 10 years ago from California

      Beautiful lens...really good layout and truly amazing pics...I love salsa, I could eat it everyday!!!

    • Angelina Gherna profile image

      Angelina 10 years ago from California

      Beautiful lens...really good layout and truly amazing pics...I love salsa, I could eat it everyday!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago

      I was actually selling chips and salsa at an avocado produce stand a few weeks ago. I did not have the time to make my own salsa, so I was getting it from a restaurant that was famouse for their salsa...this post has made me want to revisit making my own. Thanks!

    • chefkeem profile image

      Achim Thiemermann 10 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Your lenses are always very thorough and well-researched. My chef-to-chef compliments! 5*s


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