Cinco de Mayo kicked off the spicy and colorful month of May, also known as National Salsa Month. In music, salsa is a stew of rhythms and dance styles from Latin-America (especially from the Caribbean and South America) while in Mexican cuisine, it’s a mixture of fruits, vegetables, spices, seasonings, and most of all chiles. In all, Mexico uses 150 different chiles—fresh and dried—with a variety of cooking techniques to make salsa as a condiment, a base for soups and stews, and marinades. Here are 5 categories of salsa to master just in time for tomato season here in California.
No one walks in L.A., but almost everyone here can make a solid guacamole, an essential salsa of mashed avocado, diced white onion, chopped cilantro, lime juice, diced chile serrano, a little tomato (in the guacamole or on top as a garnish), and salt added to taste. From there the possibilities are endless, try Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen in Bell Gardens for one of the best guacamoles in Los Angeles.
Pico de Gallo (or bird’s beak)
A good pico de gallo is great for taco night or as a fresh salsa that combines chopped tomato (deseeded), cilantro, white onion, chile serrano, lime juice (a little orange juice can be added, too), and salt to taste. Tacos La Güera has a fresh and tasty condiment bar that always includes a delicious pico de gallo.
Tomato and Tomatillo Salsas
Use either fresh tomatoes of your choosing, or tomatillos combining 1 pound of whichever fruit, 5 chiles serranos (can adjust for spiciness), 5 sprigs of finely chopped cilantro, 2 teaspoons of chopped onion, and salt to taste. This salsa can be fresh, cooked, fried, or roasted—blend the tomato salsa, add garlic, and cook in oil, adding stock or water to make tomato soup for chiles rellenos.
Dried Chile Salsas
This category has a huge range from the flavorful and stinging chile de arbol to smoky salsa de chile morita to toasted and seasoned chile acho salsa, sautéed with onion, garlic and tomatoes for a basic enchilada sauce. Use every cooking technique you know to coax an array of flavor and textures from the various dried chiles. You can try expert versions at Tacos Quetzalcoatl, Tacos Cuernavaca and Guerrilla Tacos.
At our favorite Yucatecan restaurants, Chichen Itza and Flor de Yucatan Bakery, you can taste the creative salsas of Mexico’s Mayan culture: Ha Sikil P’ak is made with crushed, toasted pumpkin seeds, tomatoes and habaneros; Xnipek, or “dog’s nose” salsa is a mixture of punishing habanero, onion, tomato, Seville orange juice, and salt to taste. Both restaurant also use various Yucatecan recaudos (annatto seed pastes) and escabeches (pickled salsas).