I love Mexican food–you may have figured that out–and my favorite part of the meal is the chips and salsa. Here in Texas, when we go to a Tex-Mex establishment, whether it is a hole in the wall dive or a high-end place, we expect, and get, a basket of fresh chips and a dish of salsa before we even order. I imagine that a restaurant that didn’t provide this complimentary fare would not last very long. It’s also usually a pretty good indication of what is to come later–if the salsa and chips are good, I’m always encouraged. But if the chips are stale and the salsa is too watery or too tomatoe-y, I start to get that bad I-made-a-mistake feeling.
I make three different tomato-based salsas. I love them all, and sometimes I crave one or the other. You can make any of these mild, medium, or extra-spicy, just depending on how many hot peppers you use.
My go-to salsa for many years has been this one. It’s so easy that it can be whipped up in a minute or two, and everyone loves it. You can add as many peppers as you like, and you can also add cilantro if you’re not a hater–but it’s totally fine to leave it out, too. This salsa tastes best the day it’s made.
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 mild onion, or less
hot peppers to taste (pictured here are chile petins from my garden, but serranos or jalapeños are good too)
salt to taste and cilantro if desired
Place the onion and the peppers, and the cilantro if using, into the container of a blender. Drain the tomatoes and add about half to the container. Puree. Add the remaining tomatoes and pulse until desired consistency is achieved. Add salt to taste.
When I’m in the mood for something slightly different, I like to make a roasted salsa. This is a pretty flexible recipe, and it just requires you to roast whatever vegetables you’re using, then puree or pulse them in a blender or food processor. These are the vegetables I like to use, with the addition of some hot peppers (not pictured here).
I always spray my vegetables with Pam and roast at 450°F until they are slightly browned.
4 tomatillos, stemmed and washed
2 mild green chiles, such as Hatch
4 Roma tomatoes
1 Poblano pepper
4-5 jalapeños, or more or less to taste
juice of a lime
Spray the vegetables with cooking spray and place in a layer on a cookie sheet. Roast in a preheated 450°F oven until browned.
Place all ingredients except the lime juice in a blender container and process to desired consistency. Add lime juice and salt a little at a time, to taste.
And last but by no means least, there’s the dried pepper salsa that my friend Lupe taught me to make. Sometimes I think this one is my favorite; it certainly has the most unusual flavor, and usually ends up spicier than the others–a definite plus in my book.
The arbol chiles are pretty hot. You have to take the stems off. Peel the garlic and slice it.
Add a tablespoon of the olive oil to a small skillet. I like to use a little cast iron one that I have that suits the purpose perfectly. When the olive oil is hot, add the chiles and the garlic to the pan. Cook it just until the peppers and garlic are browned. This happens very fast, so be careful, but you want to get a good blackening on the peppers.Immediately remove them from the flame, and add the contents of the skillet to the blender container (oil and all). Add the tomato sauce, a little white vinegar, and a handful of cilantro.Give it a nice smooth puree, then take it out and put it into a serving container. Chop up a little white onion, very fine, and stir it in, along with salt to taste.
Lupe’s Arbol Salsa
8-10 chiles arbol, stemmed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon oil
1-2 small cans of tomato sauce, depending on the spiciness you want
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons finely minced onion
Heat oil in heavy skillet until very hot. Add chilies and garlic, and stir until browned (happens very quickly). Add contents of skillet to blender container, including oil. Add tomato sauce, vinegar, and cilantro. Puree. Remove from blender container and stir in onion and salt to taste.
Get yourself some good, fresh tortilla chips, and really, who needs dinner at all?