This is the first post in a series on salsas.
Salsa isn’t just for corn chips any more. This was my sudden mind-blowing, earth-shattering realization. It came way back during my college days after a working interview at one very famous Southwestern restaurant. They fed me dinner—a grilled tenderloin steak smothered in a smokey salsa—in exchange for my night’s work. I had only ever eaten steak plain, and my life would never be the same. I got the job. But more importantly, I opened my eyes to the possibilities of salsa.
Salsas, whether they’re made from chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, avocados, or fruit, are an integral part of Mexican and Southwestern cuisines. They vary from mild to medium to spicy, and they can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold. Salsas can function as either dip or sauce (in fact, salsa is Spanish for sauce), and they are the perfect accompaniment to everything from eggs to tacos to rice and beans. They can transform a simple grilled steak, pork chop, chicken breast, fish fillet, or even veggie into a spectacular meal. It’s no wonder that salsa has overtaken ketchup as the most popular condiment in the U.S.
But while I’m singing the praises of salsa, I want to make clear that I mean homemade, from-scratch salsa. Homemade salsa is vibrant and fresh and delicious and healthy, and it can perk up anything you put it on. (In comparison, the store-bought stuff is appallingly expensive and completely tasteless.) And if there’s a batch in the fridge, it’s sure to inspire many amazing meals.
8 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ¾ cups water
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Heat a medium, heavy sauté pan or griddle over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add 2 of the chiles and toast, pressing down on them firmly with a spatula, for 10 to 15 seconds, or until golden brown. Turn the chiles and continue to toast, pressing down on them firmly with the spatula, another 10 to 15 seconds, or until fragrant, golden brown, and pliable. Remove the toasted chiles to a bowl and toast the remaining chiles in the same manner.
Combine the chiles, garlic, water, and lime juice in a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt.
Makes about 2 ¼ cups. Heat level: medium. This salsa is good on everything from chips to meat to seafood. It’s especially fantastic with cheesy dishes. Guajillos are a type of dried chile distinguishable by their red color, elongated shape, and smooth skin. Wear gloves when handling chiles. To stem and seed a dried chile, simply pop off the stem and shake out as many of the seeds as possible from the stem end. Toast the chiles carefully so that they don’t burn. Like most salsas, this one’s best the day after it’s made, once the flavors have had time to mingle. Keeps for several days tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.
More salsa recipes are available here.
Now, if you’re going to have great homemade salsa, you probably want some of this Guacamole to go with it.