What is salsa?

  • Americans might have only recently begun their love affair with salsa, but the condiment's roots can be traced to ancient times, extending as far back as the Aztec civilization.
  • "Salsa" translates literally as "sauce," and encompasses a wide variety of forms. When most Americans speak of "salsa," they are typically referring to a condiment made with tomatoes, onions and chiles. 
  • As consumer demand for salsa escalates, the literal translation becomes more applicable. Sauces abound. Some contain ingredients not typically associated with salsa: papaya, mango, plantains and corn.
  • Salsa is a healthful addition to a balanced diet. The sauces are low in calories and contain little or no fat. Many of the ingredients contribute vitamins and minerals. Tomatoes, chiles and cilantro contain vitamins A and C. Some ingredients, like tomatoes, contribute potassium and lycopene.
  • While salsa is known by varying names, recados, moles, mojos, recaitos, chimmichurris or sofritos, all provide heat and perk up foods.
  • Salsas are poured over eggs, fajitas, seafood stews, boiled potatoes, grilled beef and roast chicken, used as dips for tortillas, tacos and breads, and as toppings for quesadillas, enchiladas or antojitos (snacks).
  • Salsas can be served cooked or fresh and are called salsa cruda, salsa fresca or salsa verde. Fresh salsas are made with tomatillos, avocados, fresh green chiles, spices and lime juice while cooked salsas use roasted tomatoes, spices and dried red chiles. They can be smooth or coarsely textured, thick or thin, mild or hot. 

"Salsa is being used a lot as a substitute for ketchup." -Nick Cashorali, VP, merchandising, Wonder Market Companies

"The variety of salsas is probably just as strong as the variety of barbecue sauces." -Roxy Hebert, category manager-merchandiser, AppleTree Markets

The Code of Federal Regulations does not give a standard of identity to chutneys, so the research chef will find much more freedom in developing this product. 

Speaking Salsa

Capsicum (KAP-si-kum)-chile genus; any of the plants that produce chiles as their fruit, the chile itself

Cilantro (sill-AHN-tro)-the leaves of the herb coriander; they are used extensively in Mexican cooking and are usually an ingredient in salsa. The term cilantro is often used interchangeably with the term coriander. Cilantro is also called Chinese parsley.

Picante (pee-KAHN-tay)-literally "hot and spicy." Americans generally know picante sauce as a thinner version of salsa.

Salsa (SAL-sah)-literally "a sauce." In the United States, salsa fresca is commonly referred to as salsa.

Salsa cruda (CROO-dah)-literally, "uncooked salsa." Like salsa fresca, this salsa is made with uncooked ingredients.

Salsa fresca (FRES-kah)-literally, "fresh sauce," referring to the uncooked ingredients. Salsa fresca is what Americans typically refer to as salsa, with the main ingredient of tomatoes, chiles and onions.

Salsa rojo (Ro-jo)-literally, "red sauce." The red color comes from a base of tomatoes.

Salsa verde (VAIR-day)-literally, "green sauce." The sauce is typically made with tomatillos.

Tomatillo (toe-ma-TEE-yo)-despite its misleading name, it is not a kind of tomato. A relation of the gooseberry, it is a tart green fruit, with a papery husk, used to make salsa verde.

Cha-Cha Chutneys

Chutney, originally known as chatni, is thought to have originated in Eastern India during or before the 15th and 16th century culinary cross-fertilization. During this period, South Africans were making blatjans, East Indies inhabitants produced atjar and sambals were common in Indonesia. All different names, different ingredients, diverse geographies and cultures, yet these all shared similar preparation and use. Much of this linguistic confusion would eventually fade as indigenous cooks began using new ingredients and recipes resulting from exploration and trade in the region.

Chutney contains a variety of ingredients, including fruits, sugar, spices and nuts, such as pecans. The versatile condiment can be eaten alone, or served as a meat and cheese accompaniment.

As with salsas, the Code of Federal Regulations does not give a standard of identity to chutneys, so there are many chutney variations from which to choose. Even in India, its country of origin, the product varies greatly. It might be raw or cooked or made of chunky fruit and vegetable combinations with spices.

Recipes to Rumba For:

Horseradish Salsa

1 medium tomato, peeled and chopped (about ¾ cup) 
3/4 C. chopped zucchini 
1/4 C. chopped onion 
1/4 C. chopped carrot 
1/2 C. vegetable juice 
1/2 C. mild taco sauce 
2 Tbs. prepared horseradish 
1 Tbs. chopped cilantro OR 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 
1/8 Tsp. salt 
1/8 Tsp. pepper 
1/8 Tsp. sugar

In a large bowl, combine vegetables. Whisk together vegetable juice, taco sauce, horseradish, cilantro, salt, pepper and sugar; stir together into vegetables. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Yield: 2 Cups. 

Tangy Cranberry Sauce

Coarsely chop 1 pound cranberries in food processor. Mix with ½ cup sugar, 1/3 cup prepared horseradish, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and chill.

Yield: 2 Cups.

Peppered Peach Chutney

1 (10.5 ounce) Can apricots in syrup, drained 
1 (8.5 ounce) Can sliced peaches in syrup, drained 
1/4 C. peach preserves (more for a sweeter taste) 
3 Tbs. prepared horseradish 
1/2 Tsp. ground allspice 
1/4 Tsp. ground ginger 
1/8 Tsp. salt 
1/2 C. chopped green pepper 
1/2 C. chopped red pepper

In a food processor, add apricots, peaches, peach preserves, horseradish and spices. Pulse using quick on/off motion until fruit is coarsely chopped. Stir in peppers. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Yield: 2 Cups. 

Authentic New Mexican Salsa

1 Gallon whole peeled tomatoes 
1 large onion, chopped 
1 Tbs. garlic, granulated 
1 Tbs. salt 
1/2 Lb. fresh jalapenos 
1/2 C. chile pequin 
1 Oz. fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients. Let marinate for several hours.

Yield: 4-6 Servings. 

Cranberry Chutney

1 orange, washed, quartered, seeded, coarsely ground 
1 medium onion, chopped 
4 C. cranberries 
1 one-inch knob of fresh ginger, shredded 
3/4 C. bourbon or Scotch whisky 
1/3 C. vinegar 
1 1/2 C. brown sugar 
1 Tbs. mustard seeds

If using a processor, process orange chunks for 20 to 30 seconds; add quartered onion and process just until coarsely chopped. Combine with remaining ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 4-6 Servings 

Turkey-Chutney Salad

1/2 C. mayonnaise 
1/2 C. cranberry or mango chutney 
2 Tbs. cider vinegar 
2 Tbs. light brown sugar 
1 1/4 Lb. turkey cutlets 
2 Tbs. mayonnaise 
2 C. cubed cantaloupe 
2 C. seedless grapes 
1 C. sliced celery 
1 Tsp. minced fresh ginger 
Lettuce leaves

Toppings: roasted and salted cashews, toasted coconut, raisins, sliced green onions. Combine first 4 ingredients in container of an electric blender; process until smooth. Set mayonnaise mixture aside. Brush both sides of turkey with remaining 2 tablespoons mayonnaise. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add turkey; cook 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until browned and done. Cut into thin strips. Combine turkey, cantaloupe, grapes, celery, and ginger with mayonnaise mixture in a large bowl; toss and serve over lettuce leaves with toppings if desired.

Yield: 6 Servings