TCP Kitchen
The Secret to Salsa
With temperatures sweltering, we raise the bar with another kind of heat

Salsa Cruda
Eva Kolenko | Ten Speed Press

Playing With Fire

Making salsa at home is often an intuitive process that incorporates garden ingredients, heat proclivities and whatever else you have on hand. Whether you’re following a recipe or creating your own, remember that the heat level of fresh peppers can vary widely. One week they might be scorching and the next, mild, leaving fire-lovers wanting more excitement. To create more flavor and/or fire in your salsa, consider the following ideas.

 

Allow chopped onion to macerate with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a pinch of salt before combining with other ingredients (this will soften the onion’s sharp, raw taste and help balance overall flavors).

 

Toast dried chiles (in a dry skillet or on the grill) until puffed and lightly toasted before soaking.

 

For a spicier salsa, leave the seeds in a few of the peppers. When jalapeños and serranos don’t add enough fire, add a blistering habanero, chile pequin, Thai bird chiles or ground cayenne pepper to the mix.

 

Vinegar-based pepper sauces like Cholula (my favorite), Crystal or Tabasco add heat and help make the other ingredients pop. Use them—in addition to salt—to finish and “brighten” your salsa if it needs more flavor. 

—PD

Whether spooned onto breakfast tacos, devoured with chips or served with grilled red snapper, salsa’s addictive heat elevates everything on the plate. This month’s reader recipes serve up a delicious mix of charred, smoky and fiery flavors. To get a salsa fix without cooking, try the following from Gonzalo Guzmán, chef at Nopalito in San Francisco (and author of the eponymous cookbook, with Stacy Adimando). “Unlike a cooked tomatillo salsa, this version retains all the bracing freshness and acidity of its raw ingredients,” he says. He suggests serving Salsa Cruda with meaty appetizers or entrées, like carnitas, or robust vegetables, like grilled portobello mushrooms. 

Salsa Cruda

1–2 jalapeño peppers, coarsely chopped
7 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 large clove garlic
Leaves from 1/4 bunch cilantro
Salt

1. In a food processor, combine the jalapeños, tomatillos, garlic, cilantro and a generous pinch of salt. Pulse until ingredients are well-blended but the salsa is slightly chunky.

2. Taste and adjust the amount of chiles and salt as desired.

Makes 2 cups.
Reprinted from Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2017)