How to make salsa that'll make you wanna double dip

Homemade salsa shouldn't be constrained to tomato season. Learn how to make it with year-round ingredients

Published May 4, 2022 6:25PM (EDT)

 (MJ Kroeger / Food52)
(MJ Kroeger / Food52)

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So you'd like to DIY your salsa for Game Day or summer barbecues but you're staunchly opposed to the purchase or consumption of out-of-season tomatoes? Fear not — these two things are not mutually exclusive. There is a happy medium here, and it relies on a can.

Good salsa does not necessarily depend on perfect, fresh tomatoes, the kind you want to eat like an apple on a hot day in July. This is a good thing, since perfectly plump, juicy tomatoes aren't always available (especially when you want to make salsa in the dead of winter). It depends instead on the right bells and whistles that will spruce up a party-sized can of diced tomatoes like baubles and bulbs on a Christmas tree. (In fact, you could serve this at Christmas! It's red and green! But I digress.)

Pulsed together with alliums (onion and garlic), spices (ground cumin and/or chili powder), heat (jalapeño peppers or increase the heat with habaneros), acid (lime juice), and a forceful amount of herbs (cilantro), canned tomatoes transform into the kind of salsa you might find at not-fancy Mexican restaurants. Keep it as chunky as you can handle, or take it further down the food processor rabbit hole for an almost-purée. It's your salsa; you make the rules.

A few notes about ingredients here: I like fire-roasted tomatoes for their depth of flavor. Yes, you can omit the cilantro if you hate it. And don't be afraid of the raw alliums — they will mellow from the acid of the tomatoes, and add a necessary bite of freshness. If you're really opposed to using raw onions, use a whole shallot instead. The flavor is milder, so even the onion-averse will be able to get behind it.

Here's how to make salsa in just a few minutes using a food processor. Once you nail the basics, have fun with some of our favorite variations for scooping with chips or spooning over tacos, burritos, and slow-cooker chicken.

How to make easy salsa

Step one

In the bowl of a food processor, combine one large (28-ounce) or two small (14-ounce) cans of diced tomatoes. Add half of a chopped onion (white and yellow onions will be sweeter than red onions, so choose the color based on how strong you want the flavor to be), a minced garlic clove or two, and a few pinches of ground cumin and chili powder. Add a lime's worth of juice — or two, if your margarita has already begun to kick in and you're feeling daring. Chop a jalapeño and add it in there — or just use half and remove the seeds, if you like things mild. I like to add a big handful of cilantro leaves as well.

Step two

Turn on the food processor and pulse until the salsa is just on the brink of your desired consistency.

Step three

Taste for seasoning — I suggest using a tortilla chip for this. (Consider it a form of method acting.) If it needs anything, add it now, then pulse a few more times. Once it's as chunky or as thin as you like it, dump it into a bowl, then empty out a bag of chips onto the nearest platter. Bring out a six-pack, or shake up a few margaritas, and you've got a fiesta — with no white-bellied tomatoes in sight.

More salsa recipes!

1. Grandma Imelda's Salsa

Amp up a classic red tomato salsa by grilling the tomatoes, which helps build a sensational, smoky flavor for dipping. Recipe developer Erika uses Roma tomatoes, which have a heartiness that holds up well to the hit from an indoor or outdoor grill.

2. Cooked Green Salsa (Salsa Verde)

This vibrant green salsa requires a little bit more work than just adding all of the ingredients to a food processor and blending, but it's still quick and easy. Instead, tomatillos, chiles, and garlic are simmered together until the tomatillos are soft and juicy; once they're cooked, the trio of ingredients are puréed with a whole bunch of cilantro and white onion.

3. Salsa Guille from Andrea Aliseda

A tomato-less salsa? Yes, it's possible! This one calls on avocado oil, serrano peppers, and peanut butter to create a luxuriously creamy base for dipping.

4. Roasted Salsa Verde

While we will always get behind the crisp flavor of fresh ingredients, we also can't get over the deep, smoky qualities that are a result of roasting the basic ingredients for salsa: tomatillos, chile peppers, garlic, and onions. Because these ingredients break down and become tender when they're roasted, they'll blend more smoothly in a food processor.

5. Fresh Cherry Tomato Salsa

This is a speedy salsa that makes use of summery cherry tomatoes (no chopping needed!), plus green onions, an entire cup of cilantro, garlic, jalapeño peppers, and lime juice.

By Marian Bull

MORE FROM Marian Bull

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