How to Make Salsa without a Recipe

April 28, 2014

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

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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

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Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



adpayne86 August 2, 2020
I just made this salsa and my husband said it was the best salsa he ever had. The only thing I did differently was use farm fresh tomatoes (my friend owns a farm and I get my tomatoes from her), not canned. I just cut them in to chunks (I left the skin on) and followed the recipe. Thank you for helping me figure out what to do with my left over tomatoes!!!
Shae T. November 29, 2017
Thanks for sharing such a lovely recipe. I loved tomatoes salsa. I have used this recipe almost weekly now for a couple months. Very easily the best salsa recipe I have found. SO DELICIOUS!!. I have an easy red salsa recipe, you can check:
Marcy May 27, 2016
CopyMeThat is a free app I use for copying/saving recipes on line. Just clicked on the toolbar icon and it picked up the recipe part. I easily separated ingredients from instructions. Best app ever!
Mike V. July 30, 2015
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..
Michelle July 29, 2015
Can't believe this had to be written.
Jeanette D. July 29, 2015
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.
Matt L. May 29, 2015
Great recipe for classic tomato salsa - I've been on a massive mango salsa kick recently - been obsessing over variations of this recipe -
Gila G. May 4, 2015
I don't use canned tomatoes for health reasons. Any chance jarred marinara sauce would work?
Laura415 July 31, 2015
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.
Gila G. July 31, 2015
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).
piggledy June 11, 2021
I know you wrote this a long time ago, but where are you finding tomatoes packed in aluminum? I have only seen them packed in steel cans, in the US. Perhaps you live in a country where cans are made of aluminum?
SLopez May 4, 2015
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.
j W. May 4, 2015
make salsa without a recipe??? u told us what to use and how to do it...isn't that a recipe? please people.
Sarah July 29, 2015
Phil G. July 29, 2015
That is soooo ironically funny. I was just thinking the same thing! LOL
Mark F. April 28, 2014
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.
Todd May 1, 2014
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 ?
Sietske V. April 28, 2014
Reheat your chips in the oven.. for a more authentic experience.
Terry T. April 28, 2014
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.
Sd4Texas April 28, 2014
Is that parsley or cilantro leaves in the picture. It's not mentioned in the recipe. Thanks so much.
Sarah J. April 28, 2014
I want to eat a big bowl of this with a spoon on Cinco de Mayo.
Author Comment
Marian B. April 28, 2014
salsa spoons!!!
Emily April 28, 2014
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
Author Comment
Marian B. April 28, 2014
Thank you, Emily! I raise my chip to you.
ewfood April 28, 2014
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.