This recipe is to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone a little bit. Following recipes feels good because there is more or less a guarantee of success. But there are those moments when you have a fridge full of half used ingredients—cut vegetables, leftover herbs from meals prepared earlier in the week. What do you do with these easy to forget about (and easy to waste) food items? Don’t let them go to waste: Get your creative juices flowing.
Salsa is a great way to begin experimenting with flavors and textures. It’s easy to make and you can start tasting as soon as you chop your tomatoes.
Some base ingredients you might have in your fridge for a basic tomato salsa:
- Cilantro (unless you think it tastes like soap)
- Salt and pepper
This is a great time to use that half of an onion you have in the crisper. Because the onion and garlic will be raw, you don’t need a lot. Start with a small amount, you can always add more. I used one large garlic clove because I like things spicy (use a half if you like it on the mild side) and these mini onions I grew in proportion to the scattering of tomatoes I had on hand.
Roughly chop your tomatoes, onions, and garlic and give them a few pulses in a food processor or a blender on the absolute coarsest setting. For really chunky salsa, just chop everything into bite-sized pieces by hand. Add your salt, pepper, and cayenne—all to taste—and pulse a few more times. Stop right now and have a taste. How is it? Does it need more salt? Can you barely taste the cayenne and you like things spicy? Add more! Tasting as you go is a crucial habit to form when you cook without a recipe. Pulse once or twice if you add more seasoning.
Next is the really fun part. What other ingredients do you have on hand that would taste really good in your salsa?
Here are some of my favorite additions:
- Jalapenos or other hot peppers—explore what dried peppers your grocery store offers. (Dried peppers can be roasted in a hot, dry frying pan to bring out their flavors.)
- Canned chilis in adobo
- Pickled peppers—hot or sweet
- Beans—canned or precooked
- Corn—roasted, grilled, boiled… what do you have leftover from that last cookout?
- Eggplant—roasted, sauteed, grilled… whatever you fancy, but it must be cooked!
- Sweet peppers—raw or roasted
The possibilities are really endless.
Pour your salsa into a large bowl. Chop up the other ingredients you choose to add and stir them in with a baking spatula or wooden spoon. You can also pulse them in your food processor if you like a smoother salsa. I prefer my salsa chunky and scoopable.
Peter and I bought a dozen ears of corn when we were in Newburyport last weekend, so I roasted one cob’s worth of kernels (tossed in some melted coconut oil, smoked paprika, and black pepper) beforehand to mix in. I also opened a jar of the amazing hot pickled peppers my mom makes every year (I stockpile it). They added a zip of vinegar with their heat. I started with a heaping tablespoon and added just a little more after tasting.
Taste your salsa again. Does it need more of your add ins? Could it use some more spices? Maybe a dash of smoked paprika would be just the right touch.
Seasonings For Finishing:
- Paprika—smoked or sweet
- More cayenne
- Mexican chili powder
- Cumin—use sparingly since you won’t be heating (Pro tip: dust any veggies you’re roasting with the dried spices and some vegetable oil—the heat and oil will develop the flavors)
- Extra virgin olive oil—a drizzle will taste divine over your finished salsa
- Cotija cheese—sprinkled on top right before serving
I finished with some fresh Thai basil because, to be honest, I forgot to buy cilantro before this shoot. It turned out to be a nice compliment to the vinegar and spice in my salsa. I also topped it with a sprinkle of salt and cayenne pepper.
So how did your salsa come out? Let us know in the comments!
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