Mexican Condiments and Their Origins: Salsa and Guacamole

Salsa and guacamole, the traditional Mexican condiments, are both staples of any Mexican restaurant.Mexican Condiments, Ixtapa Mexican Grill & Cantina, MAThey’re such simple and fresh dips, it would be a shame to limit them to merely a prelude to the main course. Serve ‘em up with a good film and some tasty margaritas for an instant summer get-together! They’re the perfect party finger-food.

Salsa Roja

The word salsa came to the English language from the Spanish salsa, meaning “sauce.”  Salsa roja, “red sauce”, is used as a condiment in Mexican and southwest U.S. cuisines.  It usually includes some variation of cooked tomatoes, chili peppers, onion, garlic, and fresh cilantro.

Here’s a classic recipe for salsa from Food Network that complements almost any entrée.

Ingredients:

  • 1 dried ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 dried Anaheim chile, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 8 plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 sprigs cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 lime, juiced

Directions:

Tear all the chiles into large pieces and toast them in a large dry skillet over medium heat until they change color a bit, about 2 minutes. Add the spices and continue to toast for 2 to 3 minutes until everything is fragrant. Remove from heat and carefully add about 1 cup of hot water to just cover the chiles. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Put the quartered tomatoes, sliced onion, and whole garlic cloves onto a roasting tray, spreading out evenly. Drizzle with plenty of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper and sprinkle with cilantro sprigs. Broil until everything is nicely charred, about 10 minutes (you want lots of deep rich color so don’t be afraid if some of the edges get pretty black).

Add the chile mixture to a blender and puree. Remove the tomato/onion mixture from the roasting pan and carefully add it to the blender, (it will be hot). Blend until smooth (you may need to work in 2 batches). Once everything is pureed, pour the mixture back into the pot over low heat adding a little water if the salsa is too thick. Stir in the sugar and lime juice and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer to a large serving bowl and serve.

Salsa Verde

The tomatillo, also known as tomate verde or “green tomato”, is a plant of the nightshade family. Tomatillos originated in Mexico, and are a staple of Mexican cuisine–frequently eaten fried, boiled, or steamed.  Tomatillos are the key ingredient to fresh Mexican and Central American green sauces, and the greenness of the husk are how one determines the quality of the plant.  Tomatillos should be firm (but not hard) with a mostly intact bright green husk. The bright color and tartness are the main culinary contributions of the fruit.

This recipe for Tomatillo Salsa from Food Network is great, as it highlights the tomatillo’s unique flavor and has an option to roast the tomatillos or serve an all-raw salsa.

Salsa Verde: Green Tomatillo Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces (5 to 6 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • Fresh hot green chiles, to taste (roughly 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed
  • 5 or 6 sprigs fresh cilantro (thick stems removed), roughly chopped
  • Scant 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • Salt

Directions:

For the All-Raw version:

Roughly chop the tomatillos and the chiles. In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatillos, chiles, cilantro and 1/4 cup water. Process to a coarse puree, then scrape into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove excess moisture. Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually a generous 1/4 teaspoon.

For the Roasted version:

Preheat a broiler.

Roast the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side, 4 to 5 minutes more will give you splotchy-black and blistered tomatillos and chilies. In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatillos and chilies, including all the delicious juice that has run onto the baking sheet. Add the cilantro and 1/4 cup water, blend to a coarse puree, and scrape into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove the excess moisture. Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually a generous 1/4 teaspoon.

Guacamole

Guacamole, or guac as it’s commonly known, is an avocado based dip that originated with the Aztecs in Mexico. The original name from an Aztec dialect literally meant avocado sauce.  Nowadays, it is used in both Mexican and American cuisine as a dip, condiment, and salad ingredient. Traditionally, it is made by mashing avocado and sea salt with a mortar and pestle, but other ingredients can include tomato, onion, garlic, lemon juice, chili, yogurt, or additional seasoning.  Guac is versatile, and you should feel free to add in whatever ingredients you think might work well.  Some less common extras can include mango, nuts, or even cacao shavings.

One great guac recipe comes from Alton Brown on Food Network.

Guacamole:

Ingredients:

  • 3 Haas avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Directions:

In a large bowl place the scooped avocado pulp and lime juice, toss to coat. Drain, and reserve the lime juice, after all of the avocados have been coated. Using a potato masher add the salt, cumin, and cayenne and mash. Then, fold in the onions, jalapeno, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved lime juice. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour and then serve.

And if you want to try a less traditional guac recipe, check out this concoction from Epicurious!

Mango Pomegranate Guacamole

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe avocados (2 pounds total)
  • 1 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 2 fresh serrano chiles, finely chopped (2 tablespoons), including seeds
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, or to taste
  • 3/4 cup pomegranate seeds (from 1 pomegranate)
  • 3/4 cup diced peeled mango
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • Accompaniment: plantain chips
  • Garnish: lime wedges

Directions:

Halve, pit, and peel avocados. Coarsely mash in a bowl. Stir in onion, chiles, 1/4 cup lime juice, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, then fold in pomegranate seeds, mango, and cilantro. Season with salt and additional lime juice.

All of these recipes are the perfect accompaniment for a traditional Mexican style dinner at home. Here at Ixtapa Mexican Grill and Cantina, we create an experience by serving Mexican food to our guests in an atmosphere which reflects the true culture of Mexico. If you don’t feel like making an authentic Mexican meal at home, come join us at one of our many locations in Massachusetts and experience it for yourself.