How to Make Your Own Salsa
If you love salsa and thought it was too hard to make at home, I’m going to have to stop you right there. In fact, it’s one of the easiest dips you’ll ever have a chance to make and it will taste a hundred times better than most of the stuff you get in a jar to boot. Speaking of salsa in a jar, have you noticed how expensive that stuff is? Wow, you can spend between 3 and 5 dollars on this tiny little jar that you can’t even fit a chip into. Ever try to feed a crowd? You’ll need to buy a bunch of jars and spend a good chunk of money to pull it off, and in the end it’s still canned and preservative-filled salsa.
So, it’s time for a salsa recipe that will make a ton and cost no more than a a jar of the store-bought stuff. The best part is you’re in control. If you like it hot, you can make it hot. If you like it chunky, you can make it chunky. If you like it smooth, make it smooth. No more being stuck with whatever the options are in the store. And above all, you can make it as fresh as you want. If you grow your own tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, this salsa can literally come right from your own back yard.
Now, I want to warn you ahead of time that there are no big secrets here. Almost every basic salsa recipe is a variation of these ingredients. But what I’m going to do is walk you through the process so you’ll be comfortable making it on your own, and explain how you can customize the salsa recipe to become your own. Think of this recipe as your blank salsa canvas. It’s nice on its own, but it’s up to you do decide how to build upon it. Use different types of chilies, try black beans, maybe add some roasted corn, double the garlic, or whatever you want. Your salsa, your rules.
Are you ready? Here we go. This is what we’ll be making today:
Looks good, doesn’t it? And look how much there is. That entire bowl didn’t even cost $4. So, what do you need to make this fine salsa? I’m glad you asked. Take a peek below and you’ll see the ingredients.
What we have here are some very basic ingredients, many of which you may already have. Breaking it down:
- 1 large can of tomatoes, 14-20 oz. (whole, diced, crushed, your choice)
- 1 small can of diced tomatoes with chilies
- 1 small onion or half of a medium onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 jalapeño pepper
- Juice of half a lime
- Handful of fresh cilantro
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of sugar
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. Cayenne pepper
- Dash of black pepper
Before I go any further, I want to talk about the ingredients a little bit. First, you probably noticed I’m using a food processor. I love this gadget because it makes quick work of chopping for dishes like this. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. You can still make great salsa without it. Just keep in mind that while I’m not doing a whole lot of fine chopping or dicing in the recipe below, you’ll just have to do a lot of the cutting by hand and then mix everything together.
Second, your choice of tomatoes will have a lot to do with the final product because after all, salsa is largely tomatoes. You’ll see here I have crushed and diced. I’ll be honest, usually for the large can I use whole tomatoes. But when I was digging through my pantry all I had at the time were crushed. Not a big deal as long as you don’t like your salsa really chunky. If you do like big chunks, be sure to get whole tomatoes. Sometimes I skip the small can with chilies completely and just add a small can of green chilies instead. Usually just whatever is in the cupboard.
As for the rest of the ingredients, they are just a good baseline as to what will give you a good final product. I’m sure you’ll make some changes as you become familiar with the recipe so you can suit it to your tastes.
Go ahead and dump your tomatoes into the processor and add your salt and sugar. I usually start with between 1/4 and 1/2 tsp. of each. You can always stir a little more of either after it’s all mixed up if it needs it. It really depends on the sweetness of the tomatoes. Sometimes you’ll want a little more salt to combat sweet tomatoes, or sometimes the tomatoes aren’t sweet enough and they need a little help. Your taste buds will tell you.
Next, add the ground cumin. Again, I usually shoot for about 1/2 tsp. I’m not overly concerned about precise measurements here either, because you can always sprinkle a little more in at the end if you can’t taste it. Oh, and while we’re adding spices, don’t forget to put a pinch of cayenne and fresh black pepper in there as well.
Now it’s time to add the garlic. You’ll see here I’m using a garlic press. Seriously, one of my favorite kitchen tools. Instead of spending a minute or two finely mincing garlic and ending up with garlic hands for the rest of the day, you just pop a clove into this thing (skin and all) and squeeze. Instant minced garlic! If you don’t have one, just give a clove or two a fine mince with a knife and add it to the rest of the ingredients so far.
Time for the onion. Ok, so I had to break the knife out. That’s because even though the food processor will do the chopping, if the onion isn’t already roughly chopped you’d need to turn the tomatoes into a puree before the onions were the right size. So, go ahead and give one small, or half of a larger onion a rough chop. I usually use a sweet onion, but red, white, sweet, it’s up to you.
The knife comes out again for the cilantro. All I’m doing here is cutting the stems off of a small bunch of fresh cilantro. As far as how much you should use, you can go by what you see here. It’s basically a fist full or so. You can try growing this in the garden if you want, but at 50 cents in the store this is one herb I don’t mind buying.
Let’s spice things up. Take a regular sized jalapeño and quarter it. Keep all of the seeds and membrane from inside the peppers. This is where most of the heat comes from, so this is what will make the salsa spicy. I know some of you may be thinking one pepper won’t create much heat, but you’d be surprised. Until you get a feeling for how spicy it is with one, I wouldn’t go crazy adding more. I find one pepper gives you a pleasant burn, but not so strong it’s offensive. Once I made it with two whole peppers and many of my guests wouldn’t eat it because it was too hot.
After quartering the peppers you’ll want to give those a rough chop as well. Again, for the same reason as the onions. We want salsa, not tomato puree.
Now, it’s time for the finishing touch. Take a lime and cut it in half. Then go ahead and give it a good squeeze. You’ll want about the juice of one half lime. Again, no exact measurements and you don’t have to squeeze every last drop out. Just give it a good squeeze and get what you can out of it.
If you’re following along and using a food processor, just hit the pulse button a couple of times for about 3 seconds each. It doesn’t take much. It’s better to be light with the chopping and test the consistency as you go. You can always chop things further, but once it’s been pulverized into a liquid there’s no going back. So here’s about what you’re looking for after a couple quick pulses. You can still see some larger chunks of pepper and onion, so it probably needs another pulse or two.
And here is the consistency I’m usually looking for. Granted, it’s a little less chunky than I usually make, but that’s because I started with crushed tomatoes instead of diced or whole tomatoes like usual. So your consistency will obviously differ based on what kind of tomatoes you used and what you like.
Here is the consistency shown on a chip. Don’t be afraid to dig in at this point and see how it tastes. You’ll be able to tell at this point if it needs anything else like salt, cumin, cayenne pepper, etc.
And again, here’s your finished product. How easy was that? One final note, but the flavors really come together after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. That’s one thing that can be a bit deceiving at first. You may taste it initially and think it isn’t very spicy, but as it sits the chilies have a chance to really permeate the rest of the salsa and you’ll notice on the second day it’s perfect.
I told you it wouldn’t take long or cost much money. After making this you’ll probably never buy a jar of salsa from the store again. And have fun with it and experiment. Try adding roasted garlic, or maybe some fresh mango or pineapple. If hot is your thing, step it up with hotter chilies. Or maybe try some fresh heirloom tomatoes in the summer. It’s up to you, and I’m sure you’ll come up with your own signature homemade salsa recipe to pass on in no time.
If you enjoyed this recipe, be sure to check out some of my others:
- Award-Winning Chili Recipe
- Crock Pot BBQ Pulled Pork Recipe
- Homemade Applesauce Recipe
- Grilled Potatoes and Sour Cream Sauce Recipe
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.