Mexican salsas – salsa verde and salsa borracha (drunken salsa)

If you’re not astounded by how bad most store-bought salsas are, you should be. For starters, they tend to have entirely too much tomato in them. Most Mexican salsas do not have a lot of red tomatoes in them. Store-bough salsa are also often oddly sweet. Though I don’t have a bottle of Pace Picante Sauce (ew) in front of me, I’m willing to bet there’s corn syrup in it.

But a lot of people are content to using this travesty in a can, probably because it seems like a reasonable shortcut to take. I myself had never made salsa until last weekend. But after laboring over slow-cooked lengua for tacos, I was not going to desecrate them with anything resembling Pace.

I regret having waited so long to make salsa because doing so is very, very easy. A good home-made salsa tastes like it took significantly more effort than it did, and is really incomparable to what you can usually buy in a store, even a fancy one like Whole Foods.

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I have no special tricks or pieces of advice for making salsa, it’s that straight forward. I only wish I had doubled the recipes. Both salsa verde and salsa borracha go very well with almost anything, even food that is not Mexican. Try baking over some chicken breast with queso fresco, spreading on top of eggs, or even mixing with some olive oil and vinegar for a dressing.

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Salsa verde

yield                    1 pint / 500 milliliters
difficulty             easy
cook time           20 min

This recipe makes pretty mild salsa, so add more jalapeno if you prefer more spice. However, it’s important to note that the spice level can vary significantly from pepper to pepper. I start by blending half of amount of jalapeno that I think I want, taste, and then adjust upward if necessary.

A lot of recipes for salsa verde call to boil the tomatillos, jalapenos, and onions. But I find that a bit of char from broiling adds a really nice earthy depth to the flavor. If my Manhattan apartment had a grill, I would use that in place of a broiler for even smokier salsa.

Ingredients

1 lb / ½ kilo tomatillos
2 jalapenos
¼ cup / 70 grams / 2.5 ounces roughly chopped white onion (about ¼ large onion)
6-7 sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped
2 tbsp lime juice (about 1 large lime, 2 small)
a pinch of salt


  1. Preheat oven broiler for 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, peel skins of tomatillos and rinse under water. The skins may be sticky, that’s normal.
  3. Place tomatillos and jalapenos in a baking dish. Broil for about 5-7 minutes, until skin of tomatillo is blistered and turning black. Remove from oven and use tongs to flip the tomatillos and jalapenos to the other side. Place back under broiler and cook another 4-6 minutes until other side is blistered and turning black.
  4. While tomatillos and jalapenos are cooking, blend cilantro, onions, lime juice, and salt in a food processor. The onions should be coarsely but evenly chopped (about 30-60 seconds in the processor at a medium speed).
  5. Remove jalapenos from baking dish and when cool enough to handle, cut off the stem. De-seed jalapenos depending on the desired spice level. I like to de-seed one jalapeno and leave the other whole.
  6. Add tomatillos, jalapenos, and any juice from the baking dish to the food processor. Blend until smooth, about 60 seconds at a medium speed.
  7. Refrigerate until ready to use.

The salsa will keep for about a week in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.IMG_6686


Salsa borracha (drunken salsa)

yield                     1 pint / 500 milliliters
difficulty             easy
cook time           20 min

Based loosely on this recipe from Vice Munchies (in Spanish)

This salsa is on the medium to medium hot end of the spicy scale. If you’re serving for a crowd that loves spice, add one habanero pepper to amp up the spice even more.

Many recipes for salsa borracha call for pasilla chiles rather than ancho chiles. However, I had a hard time finding pasillas and really enjoyed the flavor of ancho chiles.

Ingredients

1.25 ounces / 35 grams  dried ancho chiles (about 3), de-stemmed and de-seeded
1 jalapeno
1 habanero (optional, only use if you want very spicy salsa)
3 cloves garlic
½ cup light beer, such as pilsner, or Corona
½ cup orange juice, from about 1 large orange
¼ cup water
¼ cup / 70 grams / 2.5 ounces roughly chopped white onion (about ¼ large onion)
a pinch of salt


  1. Heat medium heavy bottomed pot over high heat. Add the ancho chiles, jalapenos, and habanero if using. Blister the skins, using tongs to turn. The blistering may be hard to see on the ancho chiles becuase of the dark color. Go by smell and by what the other peppers are doing. If anything starts to smell burnt, turn the chiles!
  2. When then chiles are nearly done, add the garlic and blister them for about a minute.
  3. Pour in the water, beer, orange juice. Simmer until reduced by about 1/4, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.
  4. While the peppers and liquid are cooling, blend onions and salt in a food processor. The onions should be coarsely but evenly chopped (about 30-60 seconds in the processor at a medium speed).
  5. Pour the chiles and liquid into a food processor. Blend until you have a smooth sauce, about 1-2 minutes. Pause periodically to scoop down the sides of the food processor.
  6. Refrigerate until ready to use.

The salsa will keep for about a week in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.

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