Two Salsa Rojas, Tomato Salsas, The Staple Of Mexican Cuisine

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: Classic Pico de Gallo, because this classic is made with raw ingredients and is bright and easy to assembl, and Grilled Salsa Roja, because it is deep in flavor and very complex.

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.

Option 1: Pico de Gallo (photo above)

The simple, bright fresh flavors of this raw salsa are wonderful on corn chips or fish tacos.

Takes. 30 minutes

Makes. About 2 cups

Ingredients

4 large meaty tomatoes

1 small green jalapeño

1/4 cup chopped scallions

1 clove fresh garlic, minced into small bits

3 tablespoons fresh cilantro

1 lime, sliced in half

Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

1) Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Chop into small cubes, about 1/8" and add to a medium bowl.

2) Slice the jalapeño lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and the white ribs and the stem end with a spoon. Chop into small bits and add to the bowl.

3) Add the clilantro, scallions, and garlic to the bowl. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime through a strainer to catch the seeds. Rub the lime skin on a zester to get about 1 teaspoon of lime zest into the bowl. Chill. You can add the black pepper at any time, but hold off on the salt til the last minute because it tends to draw moisture out. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste.

Option 2: Grilled Salsa Roja

grilled salsa

Takes. 1 hour

Makes. About 2 cups

Grilling the ingredients adds complexity and pulls out sweetness.

Ingredients

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 & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

1) Preheat the grill to medium high, about 325°F 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.

2) 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" thick rings. Peel the garlic cloves and cut off the stem end.

3) 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 makrs. Remove onion when it gets marked on the second side.

6) Let everything cool and peel the tomatoes and jalapeños (you may swant 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, 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. You can add the black pepper at any time, but hold off on the salt til the last minute because it tends to draw moisture out. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste.

Pico de Gallo

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