How to Make Perfect Salsa Every Time

Header image: Ersatz Papalote Salsa from CHOW

Spice things up this summer with homemade salsa. It’s the ideal dish for using up whatever produce you have sitting around, and you can customize it to be as hot or mild as you like. Once you’ve got a jar ready, the options are endless: Top your salads with it, eat it with chips, spoon it over seared steak, and more. Here’s how to make it.

Salsa is a pretty loose term, but you’ll either be making smooth, pureed version (try our Salsa Verde recipe or our Roasted Tomato Salsa recipe) or a chunky, traditional pico de gallo-type version.

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If you’re making a smooth salsa, assemble your vegetables and herbs and chop them roughly. You’ll be whirring them in a blender, so no need to be precise with your knife cuts.

If you’re making a chunky salsa, dice your ingredients carefully. You want the vegetables (and fruit if you have it) to all be roughly the same size, partly for looks but partly so each mouthful is evenly balanced.

Follow a recipe if you want (we’ve got some excellent ones), or just go rogue. You’ll need tomatoes, onions, and some sort of hot pepper. You will also need salt and pepper for seasoning and a splash of lime juice for acid. From there, you can choose to add herbs like cilantro and basil. You can add fruit, like mango or papaya.

Keep these tips in mind:

1. Start with very good ingredients

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Salsa is a pretty simple condiment to make, and with so few ingredients, every flavor shines through. So it’s important to start with high-quality produce, since you’ll really taste it. Summer is the best time to make salsa: Head to your local farmers’ market and pick the ripest, juiciest tomatoes you can find for your base.

2. Dial up (or down) the spice

For a classic pico de gallo-style salsa (the chunky style you’ll see next to the chips at the grocery store), your base will be tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and chili peppers (like serranos or jalapenos). While your base ratio will stay the same, you can add as much heat as you like. Be sure to taste the peppers first: Even the same type of pepper can range greatly in heat. The best way to find out how hot they are is to taste a tiny corner of the pepper, then taste a seed. From there, gauge how much you want to add.

3. Get crazy with your add-ins

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Sure, a basic salsa has the usual suspects: tomatoes, lime, onions, peppers, cilantro, and garlic. But don’t feel constricted by that. We love getting creative with our salsa flavors, especially in the summer when produce abounds. Try adding avocado and corn (get our Avocado-Corn Salsa recipe) or peaches (get our Peach, Tomato, and Sweet Onion Salsa recipe). You can’t go wrong.

Posie Harwood is a New York City-based writer and photographer. She grew up on a farm and likes raw milk, warm bread with butter, and plenty of fresh air. Follow her on Instagram, and her blog 600 Acres.

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