Grandma Imelda's Salsa

June 16, 2014
13 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes About 2 cups
Author Notes

After a recent visit to Portland, I got hooked on our tour guide's YouTube show, Grandma's Cookin'. In the show, he spends time learning recipes and techniques from grandmothers around Mexico.

In one episode, he makes salsa for memelas with Grandma Imelda. As a former fan of raw salsa only I was fascinated by her method of grilling the tomatoes until blackened before adding them to the salsa. Although I used my indoor grill to make this, I still got a fantastic smoky flavor, which I can only imagine would be heightened by a charcoal grill. Grandma Imelda added raw onion as a finishing touch, but since I can't stand raw onion, I quick-pickled mine before adding it to the salsa. The result is the closest thing I've ever gotten to a restaurant salsa: hot, smoky and just a little chunky. It’s slightly sweet, too, which is tempered with a bit of lime juice. —Erika

Test Kitchen Notes

My husband and I finished off an entire batch of this delicious salsa in one sitting. I cooked the tomatoes and jalapeños over direct medium heat and the garlic cloves over indirect heat on the grill. The tomato mixture blends into a slightly chunky purée, but the lightly pickled onions give it a good amount of texture. A single jalapeño (sans seeds) brings the spice to a mild to medium level. I highly recommend this recipe—next time I will be making a double batch! —hardlikearmour

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 large white onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 jalapeños
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 handful cilantro
  • Squeeze of lime juice
  1. Combine the vinegar, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup hot tap water in a container. Add the onion, cover, and let sit for at least an hour at room temperature.
  2. Grill the tomatoes, jalapeños, and garlic until blackened on all sides. The jalapeños and garlic will blacken faster than the tomatoes, so keep an eye on them and take them off when they're done. Set aside to cool.
  3. When cool enough to handle, peel the blackened skin off the garlic and discard. If you want a less spicy salsa, de-seed the jalapeños.
  4. Blend the tomatoes, jalapeños, and garlic in a blender with salt and cilantro. Drain the onion and stir your desired amount into the blended tomato mixture. Finish with a squeeze of lime and salt to taste, if needed.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • fur8elise
  • WileyP
  • Erika
  • Asmita Hulyalkar
    Asmita Hulyalkar
Writer and baker/blogger/photographer living in Houston, transplanted from the Bay Area. I admire vegans, lust after New York and have an insatiable passion for pancakes.

5 Reviews

fur8elise July 17, 2018
Has anyone tried omitting the sugar? I have never used sugar in a salsa and wonder how this one would taste without.
I grew up in Sacramento(Northern California) in the 1960's and we had lots of Mexican Mexican food. Many migrant workers settled there with all the agriculture. One of my friends would bring me warm tortillas from his mom! Our neighborhood grocery store even had a food court with a big Mexican section. This was way before you could buy tortillas on the east coast. My dad took frequent business trips to Washington, D.C., his suitcase packed with corn tortillas for our transplanted California friends!
Asmita H. July 5, 2018
Made it for the first time, halved the recipe. This is absolutely delicious. I will never be buying salsa again!
WileyP June 16, 2014
Erika, this looks and sounds like a really good salsa, and I'm glad you've found the secret of roasting or toasting your tomatoes. I was taught to toast the tomatoes, onion wedges, garlic and even the jalapeños on the comal or a dry skillet over medium high heat and to include the tomato and jalapeño skin in the salsa. She said, “Ahi está el sabor,” or “That’s where the flavor is!"
Erika June 16, 2014
Oh, thanks so much for the awesome comment! Toasting these in a skillet would be even easier than grilling (for me at least), so that's a great tip. And I'm going to edit the recipe to include the tomato skin because I'm sure your grandma knows what she's talking about!
Asmita H. July 5, 2018
I didn't use the skin, but would love to next time. But, I had a question. Would the skin pulverize equally well? Or does that not matter? Also how does one toast tomatoes in a dry skillet?