Recipe: The Cranky Old Dude’s Restaurant Style Salsa

First, let me apologize for missing last week. We were in the process of moving and this took up all my time, but the family and I are getting settled into the new place. It was a ton of work (my step counter was running from 150-200% of my goal steps, so I got a lot of exercise in. The new place is a bit bigger, which was sorely needed. Four of us crammed into a 2 bedroom apartment was just a little too tight for comfort. What can I say, I have room to take a deep breath now.

Let’s get started.

With football season here, what better way to impress your friends than to serve a nice, fresh, homemade salsa on game day. Of course, if you are like my family, salsa is a good snack just about any time. Plus, the salsa itself is a pretty healthy dip chock full of good stuff like anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. As far as dips go, it is probably the healthiest of all that I have seen. And it is customizable to your tastes. This recipe takes about 45 minutes to an hour to prepare, but can be done ahead of time and stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks in a sealed jar.

First, let me start by saying that sometimes it is really good to have an expert to refer to when you can’t quite figure out what it is you are missing in a recipe. I have my wife who has an excellent palette and can often tell me what is needed to save a recipe. I also have Silvia, a co-worker at my regular job, who is the best damned Mexican cook I’ve ever met. I have never eaten anything she has made without being blown away by it. Having resources like this that you can trust can help get you over the hump when you are stumped or stymied.

When it comes to salsa, I’ve always loved the smoother restaurant-style salsa. Maybe it is because the salsa is fresher and made with fresh ingredients. Or maybe I am just partial to the consistency on the chip. I don’t know. But I do know that when I first tried making salsa, I decided to make a restaurant style. Restaurant-style salsa is smoother, without large chunks of onion or tomato.

The first time I made this recipe, it was bland. It needed something. I could not figure out what was missing. After talking to the aforementioned Silvia, she suggested I add some oregano. Not a spice I associate with Mexican cooking, but hey, who am I to question the expert? I added it and – WOW! – it made all the difference in the world. To be honest, it took me three batches before I got the flavor zeroed in, but that’s cooking for you. What I like might need some adjusting to make it what you like.

I wasn’t sure how good it was, so I did a taste test at a potluck at work. I made a batch, took it into work, and encouraged everyone to give me feedback, positive or negative. I received no negative feedback and only a few positive reviews. I wasn’t sure it was all that good at that point. I know I liked it and my family liked it, but it wasn’t until I was talking with a new woman who worked with us about making salsa and she said, “I’ve heard from several people your salsa is really good.” That’s when I knew for certain that I had the recipe correct.

So, without further ado, let’s get to making some salsa.

What you will need as far as equipment:

  • Blender – you will need this to make the smooth consistency of all the ingredients.
  • A large pan or pot – I use a pot so there is plenty of room to stir without spilling over the side.
  • Something to store it in – Canning jars work best, especially if you plan to store it for more than a few days in the fridge, but a plastic storage container will work also. This recipe will make 3-4 16 ounce jars of salsa.

Outside of the typical knives, cutting board and spoon to stir, that’s all you will need.

Ingredients:

Salsa ingreidients

I use all fresh ingredients in my salsa, nothing canned or frozen. This gives it the freshest, fullest flavors. As I’ve said before, hitting up a farmer’s market is the absolute best way to get the freshest, most flavorful ingredients while supporting your local farmers. Tell them what you are making and maybe they can throw a few ideas at you as well.

  • 4-6 medium to large fresh tomatoes. I like the vine-ripened tomatoes, but Roma or hothouse tomatoes will work as well.
  • 1 medium red onion – You can use white or yellow onion as well, but the red adds just a touch of sweetness.
  • 1 bunch of green onions – I love the flavor of green onions. It works with just about anything.
  • 8-12 sprigs of cilantro – This adds a depth to the salsa. Use less if you are not a cilantro fan, or more if you are. I like to hold about a third of the cilantro out, chop it finely, and add it to the finished product for both color and flavor. The little bits of green just make the salsa look more appealing.
  • 1-2 large or 2-3 small cloves of garlic – important that this is fresh. You can adjust with garlic powder, but fresh garlic initially can make or break this recipe.
  • 2-4 peppers – If you want mild salsa, start with 2 jalapeno peppers. To heat it up, add a serrano pepper or two. My preference when cooking for a group is 2 jalapenos and 1 serrano which tends to give a heat towards the upper end of mild. When making for myself, I use 1 jalapeno and 2 serranos which moves it into the middle or upper end of medium. If you like even hotter, you can go with even hotter peppers such as a tobasco or cayenne pepper. Just to give you some idea of pepper heat, a jalapeno is 2,500 on the Scoville scale, serranos are 10,000, tobasco and cayenne peppers are 30,000, and the Carolina Reaper comes in at about 2,200,000 (yeah, that’s stinkin’ hot!!!). One thing to remember is that when you taste test the recipe, it will be a lot hotter fresh than it will be after being in the fridge for a couple of days. No, the cold air in the fridge doesn’t mellow out the peppers, but time does give the peppers a chance to mix and infuse with the other ingredients.
  • Juice from 2 lemons or limes – I prefer 1 of each myself.
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil – I have become an olive oil aficionado. Its flavor enhances everything unlike vegetable or canola oils that add little or no flavor, but you can use those two oils as well if you don’t have olive oil available. There are also flavor-infused olive oils which I haven’t tried on this yet, but they may add a subtle addition to the flavor profile.

The first thing you are going to do is prep work. You need to cut the green stems off the tomatoes and the little hair-like roots off the green onions. Remove the top, stem-part of the peppers off. Remove the seeds if you want milder, or leave them in for more heat. You will also want to peel the skin off the red onion. Chop the tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers. You don’t have to chop them into small pieces, just enough so that they will run in the blender properly. I typically quarter the tomatoes and red onion.

Throw all the ingredients except the oil into the blender and run on high until it has a fairly smooth texture. All this may not fit in at first. If it doesn’t, put in what will fit, run the blender for a bit on high, and add the rest of the ingredients as room becomes available. You may have to use a plastic or wooden spoon to push the ingredients down into the blades at first to get the blending started. I will note here that I tend to hold out one of the peppers during the mixing phase until I taste test it. Because the heat of peppers can vary pretty wildly, it is better to put in less and add more as you go. You can always add more heat, but it’s really hard to take it away.

If you want the salsa a little bit chunkier, hold out a quarter of the red onion and 1 or 2 tomatoes until the mixture is smooth, then add them and run the blender at high for 10 seconds or so. Check to see if the chunks are fine enough. If not, run another 10 seconds or so and check. Continue doing this until you reach the desired chunkiness. You can also chop them by hand and add them at the cooking phase if you like.

Note that salsa may not be as red as you would like at this time. That’s okay. It will redden somewhat while cooking.

Once this is all blended together, heat the oil to medium in your pot or pan. Add the mixture to the heated oil and cook, stirring every minute or two, for about 10-15 minutes. Don’t let is go too long without stirring or you could easily burn this and that would just ruin everything, wouldn’t it?

I usually do a taste test about ½ way through cooking to see if any adjustments are needed. You can adjust the salt – or onion or garlic – at this point by using powders. Adding some finely chopped cilantro at this point can add some additional flavor. Remember, when taste testing, you will get both the physical heat and the spice heat at the same time, so it will make the salsa seem a lot hotter than it actually is. Like I said above, it will mellow out a lot in the fridge. Figure the heat after a day or two will decrease by about 30%.

Once done, let it cool for a while and then put in your canning jars or whatever container you are using to store the salsa. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with tortilla chips or in place of taco sauce or in a burrito. It goes great on omelets too.

Now, things you can do to customize it.

You can add ingredients to enhance the flavor, or change when they are added. For example, you can add all or part of the lemon/lime juice after cooking which will make them more predominate in the flavor profile. Here are some things you can add to enhance the flavor and/or texture of the salsa.

Add some chopped onion and/or tomato right before cooking to make it chunkier or after cooking to give more texture.

Add some black beans and corn before cooking the mixture. This adds flavor and texture.

Add a pinch of cumin to the ingredients that go into the blender to make it spicier. Be careful though. A little bit goes a long way.

Add some diced mango and/or pineapple to give it sweeter, fruitier flavor. This works well with the black beans and corn as well.

Of course, if you really want to go all out, you can roast any or all of the following ingredients to create a different flavor profile: tomatoes, garlic, or peppers.

There you go, a simple, easy recipe, easy to throw together ahead of time, for a salsa that you can be proud of. Enjoy!

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