Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Celebrating Homemade Salsa!

Many are the times I suggested to Ralph that he just needs to get into the salsa business. After you have the first chip full of this smoky and flavorful salsa, you understand why he gets so many requests for it. Salsa is one of those foods where everyone who makes it does it a little different. There is no standard, per se, but you know good salsa when you experience it.

I love to watch people who have never had Ralph's salsa try it for the first time. The expression on their face says it all. When you spent years eating salsa out of jar that you buy at the supermarket and then someone offers you something homemade, it takes you to places you didn't know existed! What fun food is!

Ralph's version is very complex - so many different flavors happening at the same time. It starts with very slow roasted jalapeno peppers. Using a cast iron pan, the peppers rest over low heat until their skin starts to char and blister. And then they get turned and it starts all over again. The other ingredients are fairly straightforward: tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, and seasonings. And, like everything else, it is made to one's own taste. With this recipe, if you want it really hot, you can do that. If you don't like cilantro,  you can leave it out. Want more garlic? Knock yourself out.

With a little time, creativity and a blender, you can make a salsa that will stand out! I've had salsas in countless restaurants, markets and other homemade versions, but this salsa of Ralph's is easily the best I've ever tasted (and many other fans of Ralph's will agree!).

Ralph's Homemade Salsa

6 jalapeno peppers
2-28oz cans whole tomatoes
1 large white onion
5 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
2 tsp ground cumin (or to taste)
3 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 TBSP sugar (or to taste)

If you have a cast iron skillet use it, if not, then use the heaviest skillet you have. Put skillet containing jalapeno peppers over low heat. Check them every 10-15 minutes and see how they are doing. They should begin to char. DO NOT TRY TO SPEED THIS STEP ALONG! They take on a very unique and wonderful flavor when they are SLOW roasted, so please be patient...you'll be glad you did. Rotate the peppers so they get a nice char all the way around. This step could take more than a hour. When peppers have been roasted, remove from skillet and put on plate or in bowl and allow to cool.

When peppers have cooled, cut off the stem ends and slice peppers lengthwise. This is where you can decide how hot you want your salsa to be. The heat in the jalapeno is contained in the seeds and the membranes. More seeds/membranes equal more heat. Generally, Ralph will scrape the seeds/membranes out of half the peppers. You can keep the scraped seeds on the side in the event the finished product is not as hot has you want. You can always add more heat in by adding seeds - you can't take the heat out once it's in, however!

Your blender is good for more than just making whiskey sours and banana smoothies (although there is nothing wrong with either of those). Put it to use making salsa. Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to make your salsa in two batches. The recipe will assume you can do it in one batch, but if not, just split everything in half and do it twice.

Put your peppers in the blender and then the canned tomatoes (including juice). IMPORTANT NOTE: you don't need the entire second can - only half of it. Finding small (14oz) cans of whole tomatoes is sometimes hard, so just buy two 28 oz cans. Also, be careful when buying these tomatoes. Some have basil, garlic and other seasonings included. You just want the plain ones, although there will be some salt added.

Take your large white onion and cut it into chunks - the blender will do the work. Just peel the garlic cloves, no need to mince those, either. Put the cilantro in (if using). Try to use just the leaves - cut the stems away. Add your cumin and sugar. Turn your blender on and watch what happens!

The longer you blend the thinner the salsa will be. If you want your salsa on the thicker side, then blend until all the vegetables are completely chopped and integrated into the liquid. Then stop and check it. You can always blend more if you want. TASTE FOR SEASONINGS! You may find it needs a little more salt or cumin. If you want more heat, this is where you can drop in some of the discarded seeds from the peppers. Blend away.

Pour salsa into sealed container and refrigerate. This keeps well for over a week in the fridge, although chances are it won't be around that long. Get some good sturdy tortilla chips - or if you are feeling adventurous make your own (that's another episode!). Enjoy with chips, with vegetables, over tacos, enchiladas, burritos, etc. or use in chilequiles. When you lovingly create a salsa like this, whether for friends, family or just yourself, you will have something special that you'll go back to time and time again. Enjoy!


  1. Canned tomatoes? Really!? Time to move to California!

  2. California is great - but we like things Detroit-style!

  3. I can't wait to make this. I can almost taste this with my eyes closed.

  4. This is hands down the best salsa ever!! I just made some over the 4th of July weekend :)

  5. Thanks for posting this Kevin. I made this recipe for a family salsa competition and took first place! I love it!