Latin American and Caribbean Salsas

cucumber mango salsaMy father was a culinary adventurer, a seeker after foreign delicacies and exotic flavors. He was passionate about world cuisines and brought them home for the family to try. I remember the first time he brought home a jar of pickled hot peppers from a Hungarian deli. I was 7-ish. Dad set the jar down on the blue formica-topped kitchen table, popped the lid off and ate one, then another. After several, his face was bright red, and he was mopping sweat with his handkerchief as it trickled down his face. My older brother and I had heard of hot peppers, but had never tasted them. Dad smiled broadly and offered us each a pepper. Wow! Our mouths were on fire and we loved it! That was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with chiles, which naturally grew to include salsas when we met and fell in love with Mexican food and then Latin American and Caribbean food.

Culinary Sparkle and Pizzaz
There are many amazing salsas from different parts of Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Each one has a unique flavor that adds sparkle and pizzaz to any meal. Fresh salsas take almost no time to throw together. They’re wonderful on burritos and tacos for sure, but they also make: delicious toppings for eggs, steaks, chicken, fish, and seafood; dips for chips and veggies; toppings for hamburgers, roast beef and chicken sandwiches, and flavor-infusing pre-grill marinades.

How to Control the Heat
Some people like their salsa hot enough to incinerate their tongues, while others like it mild or medium. Whatever your taste, you can easily tailor the heat to your liking. To make salsa hotter: use hotter chiles, and/or add more of them, and/or leave the seeds in. To make salsa milder: use milder chiles, and/or add less of them, and/or don’t add the seeds.

Chiles by Heat
Fresh chiles can be found in supermarkets, health food stores, and Mexican, Central American, and South American grocery stores. Look for these varieties.
Very hot chiles: Serrano, Chipotle and Habanero.
Medium hot chiles: Jalapeno and Fresno.
Mild chiles: Anaheim, Pasilla, and Poblano.
No heat, but lots of flavor: bell peppers (green, red, and yellow).

Asian Chiles
Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai grocery stores also carry chiles. They’re usually very hot, so ask how hot they are before buying and using them.

Salsa Recipes
Here are some of my favorite delightful salsa recipes from Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Try them with your family’s favorite dishes. For best results, chop chiles, cilantro, and garlic very finely; and tomatoes, mangos, cucumbers and avocados into small dice. Combine everything gently but well.

Cuban Garlic Cilantro Salsa
We love this warm, garlicky salsa as a chip dip, on baked potatoes, on top of steak, fish, and seafood, drizzled on hamburger buns, as a pre-grilling marinade for steaks and chops, on grilled bread, mixed into cooked rice, and as a salad dressing.

Ingredients:
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, trimmed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 juicy lime, juiced
2 tablespoons white wine or apple cider vinegar
Salt to taste

Preparation:
Juice the lime.
Wash and chop the vegetables.
Place the garlic, cilantro leaves, lime juice, and vinegar in a food processor and process until finely chopped.
Heat olive oil in a small saucepan until hot, but not smoking. Remove pan from heat.
Pour the chopped garlic and cilantro mixture into the hot oil, whisking for a minute or two.
Salt to taste, pour into a bowl and serve warm.

Cuban Mango Avocado Salsa
This mild, flavorful salsa is delicious on fish, grilled steak and hamburgers, roast chicken, burritos and tacos, roast or grilled pork, mixed into cooked rice, and on top of salads.

Ingredients:
1 ripe mango, diced small
1 ripe but slightly firm avocado, diced small
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, trimmed and finely chopped
1/2 chile pepper (of your choice), seeded and chopped small
2 ripe Roma of heirloom tomatoes, diced small
1 juicy lime, juiced
1 teaspoon lime zest, grated or very finely chopped
Salt to taste

Preparation:
Juice the lime.
Wash and chop the vegetables.
In a mixing bowl, gently combine all ingredients.
Salt to taste.

Ecuadorian Aji Criollo Salsa
We love this on grilled skirt steak, baked potatoes, roast chicken, grilled or pan fried fish or seafood, and mixed into cooked rice.

Ingredients:
1-2 chiles (of your choice), seeded and chopped
1/2 bunch of cilantro, trimmed and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons red onion, chopped small
1/2 cup of water
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/2 juicy lemon, juiced
Salt to taste

Preparation:
Juice the lemon.
Wash and chop the vegetables.
Combine chile, cilantro, water, garlic cloves and lemon juice in a food processor or blender and blend well until finely chopped.
Pour into a mixing bowl and add chopped red onions,
Salt to taste.

Caribbean Sweet Spicy Pineapple Salsa
This luscious salsa is wonderful on fish tacos, grilled fish or chicken, roasted or barbecued pork, as a topping for baked winter squash or roast vegetables, on top of a salad, and mixed into cooked rice.

Ingredients:
2 cups ripe Roma or heirloom tomatoes, chopped small
1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup ripe pineapple, peeled and diced small
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 juicy orange, juiced
1/2 juicy lime, juiced
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon each: chile powder, turmeric, ground cumin, and paprika
Salt to taste

Preparation:
Juice the lime.
Wash and chop the vegetables.
In a saucepan, warm the oil with the ground spices and garlic.
Add onions and cook them until translucent.
Add all other ingredients and let simmer until salsa has thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, stirring frequently.
Salt to taste.

Caribbean Cucumber Mango Salsa
We love this salsa with barbecued pork, on top of a salmon salad, in a turkey or chicken sandwich, in fish or chicken tacos, on quesadillas, mixed into cooked rice, and on top of a salad.

Ingredients:
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced small
1 smallish firm, ripe cucumber, peeled and diced small
1/3 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, trimmed and finely chopped
1 chile (of your choice), seeded and finely chopped
1 juicy lime, juiced
Salt to taste

Preparation:
Juice the lime.
Wash and chop the vegetables.
In a mixing bowl, gently combine all ingredients well.
Salt to taste.

Oaxacan Pepitas Salsa
This rich, aromatic salsa is wonderful on roast or grilled pork or chicken, on baked potatoes, mixed into cooked rice, added to chicken soup with vegetables, or spooned over baked or grilled fish.

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, trimmed and chopped
2-3 chiles (of your choice), seeded and chopped
1/2 juicy lime, juiced
Salt to taste

Preparation:
Juice the lime.
Wash and chop the vegetables.
Roast the pepitas without oil or butter in a frying pan until they are a deep golden color and smell nutty and wonderful.
Place all ingredients in a blender or processor.
Process about 10 seconds. There will still be chunks of pepitas.
Add water a little at a time as you continue processing, until you reach the consistency of mayonnaise.
Salt to taste.

Classic Mexican Salsa Fresca
This is an especially delicious Salsa Fresca recipe. We love it with quesadillas, tacos, burritos, frijoles refritos (refried beans), chile rellenos, huevos rancheros, as a chip dip, and on top of salads.

Ingredients:
4 Roma or heirloom tomatoes, chopped small
1 smallish stalk celery, chopped finely
1 bell pepper (green, red, or yellow), chopped small
1/2 red onion, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
Several stalks of cilantro, trimmed and chopped finely
1/2 juicy lime, juiced
Salt to taste

Preparation:
Juice the lime.
Wash and chop the vegetables.
In a mixing bowl, gently combine all ingredients.
Salt to taste.

What are your favorite salsas and what do you serve them with?

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