Essential Salsa

Visit any Mexican household, and you will most likely find a container of homemade salsa in the fridge. If there isn’t any salsa, the fridge is guaranteed to have fresh or pickled jalapenos on hand. Mexicans are serious about adding heat to their food, and salsa never seems to be hot enough for any Hispanics that I know.

Whenever we went out to restaurants with my grandmother, you could be sure she had a plastic baggie of jalapenos stowed away in her purse. I always thought this was weird and funny when I was little, because I was not at all interested in salsas or Mexican food. Now that I’m older, I’m obsessed with both.

I’ve recently fallen in love with salsa de arbol, thanks to local Mexican restaurant, Leo’s. It’s somewhat of a secret salsa, because it’s not served with anything on the menu and you have to ask for it. I unsuccessfully attempted to recreate it at home, but I still managed to make a really tasty version of my own. I adapted Rick Bayless’ salsa from his Fiesta at Rick’s cookbook. This is a quick and easy salsa that comes out great every time, and goes well with just about anything.

Dried arbol chiles

Salsa de Arbol

Don’t use too many unless you can handle the heat. Chile de arbol is very hot! If you can’t find them, you can substitute dried pequin chiles. You can also use fresh tomatoes instead of canned. The color of the salsa will be more subdued. I would boil about 1 pound of tomatoes. Cool and peel before blending.
I like using ground cumin seed because it has a deeper, smokier flavor than regular cumin powder. I usually buy it at World Market. If you can’t find it, you can toast whole cumin seeds in a dry pan until fragrant and grind with a mortar and pestle. 

4-9 dried arbol chiles
1 14.5 oz. can of no salt added, diced tomatoes
1 garlic clove
1 slice of onion (or about 1 tsp diced onion)
½ teaspoon ground cumin seed (optional)
about ½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
about a handful of fresh cilantro (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

  1. Place the chiles in a small sauce pan with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Drain and let cool. In the meantime, place remaining ingredients except for cilantro in a blender or food processor. Add chile and blend until smooth.
  3. Add cilantro and pulse to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  4. You can also add 1-2 teaspoons of vinegar or lime juice to help preserve the salsa longer.
  5. Keep refrigerated. Keeps for about a week.
Check out the seasonal Halloween tostadas!


    • Thanks! That’s how I feel about hummus. It’s easy to make, but I usually end up buying it at the store especially when it’s on sale.

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