When it comes to salsa, most of us immediately envision saucy chopped tomatoes bathed in fiery garlic and scorching chilies. But really, salsa just means “sauce,” so salsa can be made with different ingredients with varying heat levels, textures, and flavour combinations.

While most salsas stem from the ubiquitous tomato salsa found in Mexican and Latin American cuisines, over the years it has evolved to include other fruits and vegetables, from summer nectarines and peaches to heirloom radishes. And that’s the bonus of making your own. You choose the ingredients, so you know exactly what goes in.

Using salsa as your summer sauce automatically boosts your intake of fruit and vegetables (more fibre! more antioxidants!) while keeping sodium, sugar, and fat levels in check. With the variety of summer produce available at farmers’ markets and in our own backyards, DIY salsa is easier than you think. If you can chop, you can make salsa.

As a food pairing, salsa is used as a flavour enhancer or foil; use it to draw out complementary flavours already existing in the dish or as a foil to temper heat or cut through richness.

No matter what the ingredients are, salsa is about finding a balance between sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. Ideally, you want to mix naturally sweet foods such as tomatoes, summer berries, stone fruits, and bell peppers with an acid, such as vinegar or citrus juice. Adding a few pinches of sea salt will help round out flavour in general.

When it comes to adding heat, chili peppers are an obvious choice. But also think of spice as layering in full-bodied flavour from foods such as garlic and shallots as well as gutsy garden herbs such as chives, cilantro, basil, and mint.

Recipes

About the Author

Jennifer Danter is a freelance food and travel writer and food stylist in Victoria, BC.