Spicing Up the Dinner Table with Authentic Mexican Salsas

Salsas Mexicanas with Janell Weaver + Canning Basics with Rachel VanDuzer from Deep Focus on Vimeo.

As much as I’ve been enjoying the amazing taste of fresh berries and tree fruit the past few weeks as I visit my family here at the orchard, I have also grown to love the vibrant flavors and spices of my new home in Puebla, Mexico. The past few years I have had the privilege to learn a few things from my mother-in-law, who is well-known by family and friends as an incredible cook. While my knowledge of Mexican cuisine, particularly that of the region of Puebla and the neighboring state Tlaxcala, is dwarfed by her experience and knowledge, I was pleased to be able to share what I have learned with the cooking class this past Tuesday.

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On Tuesday, we talked about chiles commonly used in Mexican cuisine. It is important to know a bit about the flavor of the chiles and their spice level before you begin, so that you can tailor your recipe to your liking. Here are a few that I commonly use, but there are many more available!

  • Jalapeno or Serrano: Both are fresh, green chiles. While both are flavorful and great for Mexican salsas, the serrano is spicier and great if you want a little more kick!
  • Guajillo: This is a savory dried chile with medium heat. Great for adding flavor to your salsa without getting too hot.
  • Ancho: This chile is actually a dried poblano pepper. Very flavorful and with mild heat. Often used in moles or adobos.
  • Pasilla: Another mild chile with a sweeter flavor. Also used in moles or adobos.
  • Chile de Arbol: Hot!!! This chile proves even a small pepper can pack a lot of heat! Great for a spicier red salsa.
  • Chipotle: A favorite chile for making salsas for tacos or stuffing with cheese. The chipotle has a sweet flavor and medium to hot heat.

 

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Before I share these recipes, I must give a disclaimer: rarely will you find exact measurements in traditional Mexican cooking. Normally, if I am trying a new recipe for salsa or another dish, I start with small amounts of onion, garlic or chiles, and then add more until the flavor and heat reaches my preference. Thus, you will find very general amounts in my recipes – be free to experiment until you find your perfect ingredients and amounts!

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The first salsa we made is called “Pico de Gallo” (literally meaning “rooster’s beak”, in reference to the small bits of food roosters peck with their beaks). This is a flavorful salsa with many opportunities to experiment with both ingredients and accompanying food. On Tuesday, we served this salsa up as an appetizer with blue corn tortilla chips. To the main tomato, onion and chile base, we added pineapple and peaches to give it an added flair. This salsa is wonderful as an appetizer or to put on top of grilled chicken or fish. Traditionally, in Puebla, you would find it as a topping for a meat taco.

Pico de Gallo Salsa
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(Remember, all amounts are approximate.)
Ingredients
  • 2-3 large fresh tomatoes (or 1, if it is a huge homegrown tomato like the ones we have had in the Farm Market recently!)
  • ½ large red onion (or white, if preferred)
  • 1-2 jalapeno or serrano chile peppers
  • handful of cilantro leaves
  • ½ - 1 garlic clove, minced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt to taste
  • Optional:
  • ½ a pineapple
  • 1 large mango
  • 2-3 peaches
  • 1-2 avocados
Instructions
  1. Dice or chop first four ingredients, as well as any fruit to be added. Toss in bowl, add garlic, lime juice and salt. Taste and add more jalapeno/serrano as desired.
  2. Serve as an appetizer with tortilla chips or use to accompany chicken or fish.
  3. Tip: This salsa is great after it has sat in the fridge for a few hours, giving the flavors a chance to meld. (If using avocado, add just before serving.)

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This next salsa is another fresh salsa that is traditionally used to accompany chicken, fish or red meat, or to top tacos. I enjoy it even as an appetizer with tortillas chips or added to my quesadillas.

On Tuesday, we served this salsa with a cheese quesadilla. You can make a simple quesadilla with flour or corn tortillas, mozzarella cheese (this is a good option, because it does not compete with the strong flavor of the salsa), and a green or red salsa!

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Side note: The corn tortillas we used are sold in our Farm Market, bought fresh each week on Thursday. They are called El Milagro and are the best I have tasted here in PA! (You can find them in the same case as the milk in our Farm Market.) We also sell El Milagro tostadas, which can be topped with refried beans, shredded chicken, beef or pork, lettuce, sour cream or yogurt, and red or green salsa for a quick, crunchy, delicious meal!

Salsa Verde - Green Salsa (fresh)
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Ingredients
  • 1 pound fresh tomatillos
  • ¼ - ½ onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1-2 jalapenos or serranos, stems removed (remove seeds for less heat, leave in for added spice)
  • ½ - 1 garlic clove, minced
  • handful of cilantro leaves
  • salt to taste
  • Optional:
  • ½ - 1 avocado, peeled
  • 1-2 teaspoon sugar (or baking soda)
Instructions
  1. Husk and wash tomatillos well to remove acidic, sticky film. Toss all ingredients in food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Taste, then add any chiles or other ingredients. Add avocado if using and pulse to chop. If the salsa tastes acidic, add sugar or baking soda to neutralize.
  2. Tips: Tomatillos can be found at most supermarkets. When choosing tomatillos, pick smaller ones for sweeter flavor. Also, choose tomatillos that are still filling the husk, rather than being shriveled and loose inside the husk.

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Our next salsa is the same basic recipe as the last, with the exception of being cooked rather than fresh! This is another good one on top of tacos or tostadas, or you can saute some chicken in a bit of olive oil until browned on the outside, add the salsa and some broth, and then simmer until chicken is cooked through. Add potatoes and any vegetables desired, and you have a great dish to serve along with some rice! On Tuesday, we served it on top of grilled chicken.

Salsa Verde (Cocida) - Green Salsa (Cooked)
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Ingredients
  • 1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked and washed
  • 1-2 jalapenos/serranos
  • ½ - 1 garlic clove, whole
  • ¼ - ½ onion
  • salt
  • Optional:
  • handful of cilantro
  • 1-2 teaspoon sugar
Instructions
  1. Boil water and cook ingredients until soft. Blend until smooth and salt to taste. If desired, add cilantro and sugar if needed, and blend until smooth.

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Now, we move on to the red salsas, which are made with plum tomatoes as the base and usually a dried red chile, with the occasional fresh green chile. Plum tomatoes are used because they are what is normally available in the produce stores. Also, they produce a less watery salsa.

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This first salsa is made with Guajillo and Arbol dried chiles. The chiles are lightly toasted before being added to bring out their flavor. For this class, I bought the brand Frieda’s. There are many different brands and you can find them at Giant, Wegman’s, or most of the smaller Mexican cuisine stores you will find in the city. You can also find both large and small amounts of dried chiles online.

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This salsa can be used for the same type of foods as the Salsa Verde Cocida recipe above.

Salsa Roja de Guajillo y Chile de Arbol - Red Salsa with Guajillo and Arbol Chiles
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Ingredients
  • 4 plum tomatoes, roasted
  • 1 garlic clove, roasted
  • 2-4 guajillo chiles, toasted
  • 2-4 chiles de arbol, toasted
  • ¼ - ½ onion
  • salt to taste
  • Optional:
  • oregano
Instructions
  1. Roast plum tomatoes and garlic on medium heat on cast iron skillet, in oven or in toaster oven until skin is charred and split and tomato is soft, about 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally to roast all sides. Remove stems from dried chiles and shake out seeds. Toast on each side for about a minute, high heat. Remove skin from tomatoes, if desired. Add all ingredients to blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Add salt and oregano to taste.

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Another red salsa, this next one uses the same method, but replaces the dried chiles with fresh ones. This salsa is traditionally made using a mortar and pestle, called a “molcajete,” rather than pureeing it. The end result is a chunky, flavorful salsa. In the Puebla area, the mortar and pestles are made from volcanic rock produced by the nearby volcano, Mount Popocatpetl. This volcanic rock even adds a unique flavor to your salsa! A mortar and pestle is a great addition to your kitchen tools for making salsas, pestos, and grinding various other ingredients/foods.

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Salsa Roja de Molcajete - Red Salsa Made in Mortar & Pestle
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Ingredients
  • 4 plum tomatoes, roasted
  • 1-3 jalapeno/serrano chile peppers, roasted
  • 1 garlic clove, roasted
  • ¼ onion, fresh minced
  • salt to taste
  • Optional:
  • oregano
Instructions
  1. Remove stems and seeds from chile peppers. Roast plum tomatoes and garlic on medium heat on cast iron skillet, in oven or in toaster oven until skin is charred and split and tomato is soft, about 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally to roast all sides. Remove peel from tomatoes, if desired. Add first three ingredients to blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Stir in mixed onion. Add salt and oregano to taste.

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How to Rehydrate Dried Chiles

Rehydrated chiles can be used in salsas in place of toasted dried chiles, toasted and sliced to add to your soup, stuffed with cheese, or used to make a chile paste, along with many other tasty uses!

  • Rinse chiles to remove any dirt, remove stems and shake out seeds.
  • Heat water until boiling.
  • Add chiles, remove from heat, and allow to soak at least 20 minutes.

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To make chile paste, place rehydrated chiles in blender or food processor with a small amount of the water used to soak them. Blend into a puree, and then add liquid until you are able to press it through a fine mesh strainer. Use remaining liquid as a paste to add to dishes to kick the flavor up a notch!

Enjoy these recipes as you add a little spice to your table!

Instructions for Canning Salsa

During this demonstration, staff member Rachel VanDuzer also shared some tips for canning salsas. Listen to the tutorial on the video or read the canning salsa recipes and instructions from last year’s cooking class.

Get Canning Instructions
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