The best salsa is easy to make as long as you have great raw ingredients. You don’t even need a recipe to make salsa—but we’ll give you plenty, plus basic rules and tips for perfect homemade salsa every time, whether you’re following specific instructions or not. And you can always customize it depending on what produce you have and how hot (or mild) you like things.
Related Reading: The Unassuming Ingredient That Stands Between You and Perfect Salsa
You’ll be all set for dipping chips, but there’s a lot more you can do with your salsa too: top grilled meats and seafood with it; dollop it on salads; spoon it over your favorite quesadilla, burrito, or Mexican sandwich. Eat it with a spoon, even (you’ll be tempted).
Here’s everything you need to know about making the best homemade salsa.
What Is Salsa, Exactly?
Salsa is a pretty loose term—technically, it’s just the Spanish word for sauce—but you’ll generally always find tomatoes and chilis in it (there are exceptions, as you’ll see).
But really, salsa can be whatever you want it to be!
Follow a recipe if you like guidelines (we’ve got some excellent ones below), or just go rogue.
How to Make Salsa without a Recipe
You’ll need tomatoes, onions, and some sort of hot pepper—or you won’t; you can always swap in another fruit (like mango, pineapple, or papaya) for the tomato, and/or leave out the onions or the peppers if you prefer.
You will need salt for seasoning and a splash of lime juice for acid (other citrus can also work, but it should always be fresh). From there, you can choose to add fresh herbs like cilantro and basil, as well as additional ingredients (we’ll get to those in a bit).
If you’re making a smooth salsa, assemble your produce and chop it all roughly. You’ll be whirring everything in a blender, so no need to be precise with your knife cuts. Sometimes you’ll roast or char the ingredients first.
Vitamix A2300 Series Ascent Blender, $399.96 at Sur La Table
Any blender will make a smooth salsa, but a famously high-powered model will do it faster.
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. The fresh chilis can be in smaller pieces—minced, instead of diced—so they’re more evenly distributed throughout.
Tips for the Best Salsa Every Time
1. Start with Very Good Ingredients
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. Ditto any other fruit that’s going in.
Related Reading: 7 Online Produce Delivery Services You Should Know About
2. Taste as You Go
This is a cardinal rule of cooking in general, but it still applies when you’re assembling a no-cook salsa. The only way to know what you need to add is to taste.
Take a tiny nibble of your hot pepper; if it’s much spicier than you expected, add less of it to the recipe. Same goes for your onion. (Pro-tip: Wearing gloves is a good idea when dicing hot peppers.)
If your tomatoes aren’t great, you might need more salt and lime juice than you planned on—if they’re truly bland, you might even want to roast them to give them more dimension and sweetness and switch to a blender salsa instead of a raw, diced style.
3. Get Crazy with Your Add-Ins
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. It’s a great time to go heavy on the sweetest stone fruit specimens or most terrific tropical fruit you can find.
Related Reading: Upgrade Taco Tuesday with Fresh Fruit Salsa
For a creamy element, try adding avocado. Or, for extra crunch, add diced jicama, celery, fresh corn kernels (they’re super sweet when raw and in season), cucumber, or even lettuce (chef Gabriela Cámara’s secret for salsa verde cruda).
4. Use a Sharp Knife
A sharp knife is a necessity in the kitchen, and you’ll really appreciate it for making raw salsa; a sharp blade makes it easy to chop, while a dull blade will crush, mash, and bruise ingredients. (It can even make you cry more when chopping onions!)
8-Inch Chef's Knife, $89 at Made In
A chef's knife is super versatile.
The Best Salsa Recipes
If you’re not ready to start experimenting on your own quite yet, these are some of our very favorite salsas for dipping chips and topping tacos:
This is the one you’ll see in plastic tubs in the produce section, but it’s so simple to make yourself. Just make sure your tomatoes are really ripe—and remember to taste until you get the balance of acid, salt, and spice just right. Get our Pico de Gallo recipe.
If you like a thin taqueria-style salsa, this is it. We used roasted Roma tomatoes, chiles de arbol, pasilla peppers, vinegar, scallions, and cilantro to recreate the taste of the elixir at Papalote in San Francisco. Then we blended it all with pumpkin seeds to make it smooth and creamy. Get our Taqueria Salsa recipe.
For something a bit simpler, and a little thicker, our Roasted Tomato Salsa recipe is also fantastic.
If you prefer a chunky texture, though, the same ingredients are just as good roughly chopped. Get our Chunky Tomatillo Salsa recipe.
Sweet summer corn kernels add a fresh pop to this creamy-crispy mix of produce; ripe avocado cubes lend the rich contrasting element. Get our Avocado Corn Salsa recipe.
A salsa that mixes mango and tomato is always delicious, but to really showcase the fruit’s flavor, it can also stand alone. Well, mostly—minced serranos, onion, and cilantro step in as supporting players. And the all-important salt and lime juice bring balance. Get our Spicy Mango Salsa recipe. (This also tastes great with ripe pineapple instead.)
Ripe melons like cantaloupe and honeydew already make for a refreshing salsa, but adding crunchy cucumber boosts that aspect exponentially. We add fresh oregano here instead of cilantro, but it’s good with almost any fresh herb (and great with watermelon too). Get our Cucumber Melon Salsa recipe.
Is it salsa, or is it guac? If “salsa” is just sauce, this smooth avocado concoction definitely counts—but it can also be used as a traditional dip. It’s blended with tomatillos, onions, garlic, and epazote (a Mexican herb that can be replaced with a combo of cilantro and oregano if need be). Get our Guacamole Taquero recipe.
Header image by Chowhound.