An important building block in Mexican food is salsa roja, which is commonly called tomato salsa in the US. There are a gazillion ways to make it, but here are two of my faves: Grilled Salsa Roja (the recipe for which you will find below), because it is deep in flavor and very complex, or Classic Pico de Gallo, because this classic is made with raw ingredients and is bright and easy to assemble. You can find my pico de gallo recipe here.
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Fresh quality ingredients are essential, especially fresh tomatoes are absolutely necessary to good salsa. You cannot make it in January from the South American pink rocks in the grocery stores. Prime time is August through September. Note that when I say “meaty tomatoes” I mean a tomato with thick walls and little jelly in the center, such as Roma tomatoes. Although the jelly is loaded with savory umami flavor, it also makes the salsa watery.
- 4 large meaty tomatoes
- 1 small green jalapeño
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves fresh garlic
- 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro
- 1 lime, sliced in half
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
These recipes were created in US Customary measurements and the conversion to metric is being done by calculations. They should be accurate, but it is possible there could be an error. If you find one, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page
- Fire up. Preheat the grill to medium high, about 325°F (162.8°C) in one single hot zone. When it is hot, clean the grates really well. You don't want any rancid meat grease in your salsa.
- Prep. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Slice the jalapeño lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, the white ribs, and the stem end with a spoon. Peel the onion, cut off the ends, and slice into 1/2" (1.3 cm) thick rings. Peel the garlic cloves and cut off the stem end.
- Cook. Put the tomato, onion, lime, and jalapeño on the grill cut side down. To keep the garlic cloves from falling through you can put them on a grill topper or a piece of foil or a frying pan. Turn the tomato, onion, and pepper when they start to get grill marks. Let the jalapeño and tomato skins blister and blacken so they will be easy to peel. Remove the lime when the cut side gets grill marks. Remove onion when it gets marked on the second side.
- Prep again. Let everything cool and peel the tomatoes and jalapeños (you may want to wear gloves when handling the jalapeños). Chop the tomato, onion, jalapeño, garlic, and cilantro in a bowl, squeeze in the lime juice through a strainer or your fingers to catch the seeds (some limes have seeds), and add salt and pepper to taste. Rub the lime skin on a zester to get about 1 teaspoon of lime zest into the bowl. Stir and chill. If you barehanded the pepper, wash thoroughly with soap or you can burn your eyes or other moist parts (use your imagination).
- Chill the salsa for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. You can add the black pepper at any time, but hold off on the salt until the last minute because it tends to draw moisture out.
- Serve. Season the salsa with salt and pepper as needed then serve as a dip, a condiment, or in any dish in which you want some Mexican flair.
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