Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Cooked Salsa


I had a small, daytime housewarming party late last October, when I was finally settled into my new apartment. I served a breakfast burrito buffet, which always goes over fabulously well. Since everything but scrambling the eggs and heating the beans and tortillas can be done so far in advance, I decided that I’d use every last resource in my new, tiny kitchen the morning of the party. It was fun to make unexpected aspects of the meal from scratch, and I had time to clean up before everyone arrived.

I’m pretty sure that I found a cooked salsa recipe in one of the beloved Moosewood cookbooks originally. I may have even followed it for that burrito buffet housewarming brunch. It’s nearly the same ingredients as a classic tomato sauce made from canned tomatoes, but you use cilantro instead of basil, and instead of carefully caramelizing the onions and garlic to a toasted golden brown, you basically stir fry them, so they maintain their crunch in the finished salsa.

In the photo below, you can see the batch I made for a dinner fajita buffet—we grilled chicken and striped bass, but otherwise the components were the same as for breakfast. This time, however, the seamless advance preparation almost turned to disaster. I knew I was going to have to make the salsa in two steps, since we hadn’t yet made the supermarket run for cilantro, lime, and chiles. But then I slightly over-softened the onions and mistakenly opened cans of tomatoes that were already flavored with basil. When I tried the salsa it tasted like tomato sauce.

After going to the supermarket though, I minced lots more garlic, toasted several jalepenos, chopped up an entire bunch of cilantro, squeezed the juice out of three limes, and my Italian pasta sauce became a (cooked) Mexican condiment. It was a peculiar moment in taste transformation, but it made me realize just how experimental you can get. The size and flavor of your tomatoes and your hot peppers matter a lot; how long you cook and cool the salsa for matters too. Then there’s the concept of adding fruit, beans, or corn. Start thinking about other fresh herbs, and you’re on your way to salsa infinity.

From my kitchen, brewing up spicy condiments, to yours,



Cooked Salsa
Makes 5 cups

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, very finely diced
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro, minced
2 jalepenos, green parts finely diced, a few seeds added (depending on your view of spice)
2 28-ounce cans of diced or crushed tomatoes
juice from 3 limes

In a large saucepan heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the pan is quite hot, toss in the onions. Stirfy for a minute or two, then add the garlic and jalepeno and stirfy a minute or two more. Everything should have become slightly more translucent but should by no means be cooked through. Add half the cilantro, let it wilt, then add the tomatoes. Bring the whole thing to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the lime juice, taste for salt, and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until chilled.

The salsa will keep 1-2 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge if you don’t eat it all, straight from the spoon, before them.

  • Kate

    Even though that recipe looks and sounds amazing, I don't think the picture was taken in a small kitchen…..But it still looks scrumptious!

  • Sarah L

    more importantly, look at those amazing dishes. looks like a beautiful flower! where did that come from?

  • Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life Cooks

    the dish is from my grandmother's old house – literally from the fifties. doesn't it look so fifties?

  • Ceeinbc

    Not sure whether you'll see this belated comment but I only just came across this post while searching for salsa on your site. Love the sound of the recipe & all the food looks fab, though must admit to an aversion to Cilantro. *sigh*

    While looking at the larger size of the photo, the thought occurred to me that next time you use those wonderful serving dishes (yes, so-o fifties!) give them a 180' turn so that those little depressions/grooves are on the outside of the sunburst circle so that your serving spoons' handles might rest easier & not pickup as much extraneous salsa, guacamole or what have you? Just a suggestion, of course.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment — so enjoy all your posts with their vignettes & delicious recipes. Thanks for sharing. Cheers, Cee

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