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The Ultimate Guide to Salsa Styles
Grab your molcajete, it’s time to talk salsa. It doesn’t have to be Super Bowl Sunday, Cinco de Mayo, or Taco Tuesday to enjoy a spicy, satisfying salsa. This condiment is so much more than a chip dip, and if you’re startled to hear that, we’ve got some work to do. With varieties from mild to extremely hot, green or red, fruity or garlic-loaded, it’s almost impossible to find a food that can’t be improved by a spoonful of salsa. But, before you start pouring sauce, let’s learn about these 7 types of salsa to see which flavor makes your taste buds tingle for a taste.
Salsa Roja (aka Red Salsa)
As the name suggests (“roja” = red), salsa roja is a traditional red salsa that’s also called salsa de mesa and salsa mexicana. Known to offer varieties in heat and consistency, this salsa is a heavy hitter with flavor, whether it’s a mild or mind-numbingly hot sauce. The base relies on tomatoes, but the rest can be cheffed-up lots of ways using raw or cooked ingredients to create any level of heat. Enjoy textures from chunky to smooth to totally silky for any meal topping or a meat marinade. Roasted red salsas use fire-cooked tomatoes to deepen the flavor and garlic-based varieties provide a heavy dose of fresh-minced earthiness. Chips aside, red salsa goes with almost any meal that needs a bright punch of deliciousness—use it on your favorite Mexican fajitas or taquitos, or top breakfasts, soups, and pulled chicken or beef.
Pico de Gallo
Pico de gallo style salsa boasts a similar flavor profile as its saucier red salsa counterparts but in a deconstructed, freshly chopped way. Consider pico to be the “side salad” of Mexican cuisine. This raw mixture starts with loads of diced tomatoes, chopped onions and peppers, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime to give it a flavor that’s as bright as it looks. Inventive varieties of this salsa add in jicama, pineapples, mango, or oranges to accompany savory or sweet dishes, or give it a dash of jalapeño salt for added kick. With very little liquid, pico is the topper of choice for perfectly crisp foods including quesadillas or crunchy tacos without any soggy-factor.
Salsa Verde (aka Green Salsa)
Much like salsa roja, salsa verde is named for its color (green = verde). In Mexican cuisine, this salsa is made from tomatillos rather than tomatoes. What are tomatillos? Excellent question. Tomatillos are gmall, green fruits distantly related to tomatoes. The flavor of a tomatillo is more acidic and less sweet than tomatoes, bringing a vegetal brightness to salsa. The taste of the sauce changes whether it’s made with raw or cooked tomatillos. Raw tomatillos have a more sour punch, while cooked tomatillos have a robust smokiness. Salsa verde is pureed so it has a smooth texture and consistent green color. Use this on dishes with chorizo or chicken including tacos, burritos, and tostadas, or on a plate of eggs or breakfast hash for a nice, bright morning bite.
This salsa usually costs you extra because it is extra. Traditional guacamole is a chunky, creamy dip packed with fresh, raw ingredients including avocados, jalapeños, diced onions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Avocados have a silky texture and mild taste that carries the spicy peppers, onions, and cilantro flavors perfectly. The sauce originated with the Aztecs back in the 1500s, and was renamed due to the Spaniards’ inability to pronounce ahuaca-moli (can’t totally blame them there). Tortilla chips and guac are a classic snack, but it’s also great for raw veggies, avo toast, rice cakes, and even baked potatoes.
Avocado salsa is what you’d get if guacamole and salsa verde had a baby. Its aliases include guacamole salsa, salsa verde con aguacate, avocado green salsa, and a whole host of other similar nicknames. What’s the difference between avocado salsa and guacamole? First, the ingredients. This sauce is avos + tomatillos, and then a mix of jalapeños, onions, and cilantro. The second differentiator is consistency. Avocado salsa is thin—great for the perfect drizzle or as a marinade—while guacamole is thick and occasionally chunky. You’ll find the creamy acidity of avocado salsa goes well with fiery-hot foods for spicy tacos and burritos so the next time you have a mouth-burner, reach for this cooling condiment.
Black Bean & Corn Salsa
Is it a dip, a salad, a casserole, or a condiment? You decide! Black bean and corn salsa is the chunky love child of the Tex-Mex flavor movement. Bright, crisp corn and chopped tomatoes are a sweet contrast to the soft, mild black beans. Other flavor-makers in this salsa are jalapeños, garlic, onions, and cilantro. Sometimes you’ll find this with a different combination of beans with all kinds of western cowboy names, but the flavors are mostly alike. Whether you like this style mild or hot, it adds texture to any Mexican meal and adds a nice heat and relish-like consistency to hot dogs and burgers, plus it’s known to give a bland goulash a sweet, hot, crunchy kick.
Sweet and sassy fruit salsas are a flavor combo you’ll crave. Sweet salsas make any meal into a savory, salty feast, so pour mango salsa on chicken, steak, or ice cream for a burst of bright heat. Try pineapple or lime salsa on caribbean style fish, and top your favorite nachos with a punchy peach variety. Pork and fruit are a classic pairing so swap your applesauce chutney of yesteryear with a fruit salsa the next time you’re roasting a loin or baking chops to blow your family away with a bold new dish.
Salsa 7 Ways, New Ways to Crave
Trust us, any kind of salsa is worth trying, especially when it’s made from fresh, quality ingredients. Give all 7 of these different sauces a taste to learn what kind you crave most. Are your taste buds fanatics for fiery-hot red salsas or medium greens? Start planning to take the blue ribbon at your next cookout with your fruit-salsa-meets-meat masterpiece, or show them your culinary creativity with a mango salsa topped dessert. Once you learn how the tang of a tomatillo or a fire-roasted tomato turns a meal from mediocre to magnificent, you’ll always think beyond the chip.