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How to Make Salsa without a Recipe

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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Homemade salsa shouldn't be constrained to tomato season -- Food52's Assistant Editor Marian Bull shows us how to make it with year-round staples.

How to Make Salsa without a Recipe

So you'd like to DIY your salsa on Cinco de Mayo 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. 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.)

How to Make Salsa Without a Recipe on Food52

Pulsed together with alliums, spice, heat, acid, and a forceful amount of herbs, 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. 

Grab the nearest margarita. Here's how to make out-of-season salsa without a recipe:

How to Make Salsa Without a Recipe on Food52

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine one large (28-ounce) or two small (14-ounce) cans of diced tomatoes. Add half an onion, chopped, 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, if you like things mild. I like to add a big handful of cilantro leaves as well.

How to Make Salsa Without a Recipe on Food52

2. Blend until the salsa is just on the brink of your desired consistency.

How to Make Salsa Without a Recipe

3. Taste for seasoning -- I suggest using a tortilla chip for this. (Consider it 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.

How to Make Salsa without a Recipe

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: salsa, cinco de mayo, mexican, how-to & diy, entertaining, everyday cooking, winter, pantry, tomatoes

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Comments (21)


29 days ago Mike Vella

I recommend as noted below that one strain the tomatoes. Also, I like a lot of fresh ground black pepper in mine.
The beauty of this recipe is that it's the base for making it a bunch of different ways. Roast all the vegetables first and it's got a great smokey flavor. Buy some of the large dried chilies from the Mexican market and re-hydrate a couple of them and add to the processor.
If you want green salsa, while you're at the Mexican market, buy a couple pounds of tomatillos, halve them and blacken them under the broiler till nice and soft and substitute for the canned tomatoes. This is also the base for making Chili Verde..


about 1 month ago Michelle

Can't believe this had to be written.


about 1 month ago Jeanette DeMain

This is exactly how I've been making my salsa for years. Learned the recipe/technique from a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in Cleveland called Luchita's. Believe it or not, it used to be difficult to find fresh cilantro back in the 1980s! I don't use any cumin or chili powder, however. I find that cumin is overpowering in almost any amount. And canned tomatoes with the liquid drained off really do work better than fresh tomatoes. With fresh, the liquid is continually separating out from the salsa.


3 months ago Matt Libling

Great recipe for classic tomato salsa - I've been on a massive mango salsa kick recently - been obsessing over variations of this recipe -


4 months ago Gila Golder

I don't use canned tomatoes for health reasons. Any chance jarred marinara sauce would work?


28 days ago Laura415

Depending on the market you shop at there are several brands whose cans do not have BPA linings if that is your concern. Or you can do what I do and use home canned tomatoes in glass jars. Here is a pretty good list of brands that don't use BPA linings.


28 days ago Gila Golder

Thanks-- it's nothing to do with BPA, though. Because tomatoes are so acidic, aluminum can leach from the can into the product (no matter the brand).


4 months ago SLopez

Anything tart instead of tomatoes works just fine. Pineapples, semi ripe mangoes, kiwi fruit - all work nicely.

Personally don't like cumin. So I don't use it much. Don't miss it either.


4 months ago j weiler

make salsa without a recipe??? u told us what to use and how to do it...isn't that a recipe? please people.


about 1 month ago Sarah



about 1 month ago Phil Gorman

That is soooo ironically funny. I was just thinking the same thing! LOL


over 1 year ago Mark Frisk

I make salsa like this all the time. Cans of fire-roasted tomatoes are fantastic. I pulse the canned tomatoes and combine the ingredients in a large bowl, rather than doing the entire procedure in the food processor. Also, and this is critical IMO, I roast the garlic (in their skins) and peppers in a (dry) iron skillet, and process them separately as well. I have learned from long experience that A) roasting contributes fantastic flavor, and B) adding the garlic/pepper puree separately lets me control the amount of heat precisely.

I also sit the chopped onions in an ice water bath to take some of the sharpness out, but that's not absolutely necessary. What IS necessary is to keep the onions OUT if you plan to put the salsa up for more than a day; add them in shortly before serving.


over 1 year ago Todd

Thanks mark for the suggestions. Roasted garlic is simply awesome. Just one question-why the emphasis on keeping the onions out if I`m going to put up the salsa for a few days ?


over 1 year ago Sietske van Schaik

Reheat your chips in the oven.. for a more authentic experience.


over 1 year ago Terry Temple

It would be nice Food52 if you would fix this page so we could print it out. As it is, The topics is readable, but the actual recipe is cut off way on the right side of the page.


over 1 year ago Suzanne Duke

Is that parsley or cilantro leaves in the picture. It's not mentioned in the recipe. Thanks so much.


over 1 year ago Sarah Jampel

Sarah is Food52's contributors editor.

I want to eat a big bowl of this with a spoon on Cinco de Mayo.


over 1 year ago Marian Bull

salsa spoons!!!


over 1 year ago Emily

I love it when a how-to makes me laugh! Haha I love this site more and more every day. Great ideas, thank you. xo


over 1 year ago Marian Bull

Thank you, Emily! I raise my chip to you.


over 1 year ago ewfood

I make salsa like this all the time and it is delicious! I would strongly recommend straining any excess liquid out of the tomatoes. Watery salsa does not make for good dipping.