Salsa of the Year Recipe

Smoky and creamy, this salsa recipe is best drizzled over eggs, quesadilla, and crepes.

Salsa of the Year

For a short time last year there was a burrito joint two blocks from my front door. To say it was mediocre would be kind. For those of you who are burrito aficionados, lets just say they made the burritos in the back, out of sight, and just leave it at that. Despite painful service, bad burritos, and the worst beer and wine selection I've seen inside the continental U.S. - I would go in there and eat every week. Why? They had this one salsa. I couldn't get enough if it. On the hot end of the mild spectrum, it was red/orange in color, smooth, and slightly smoky tasting. I couldn't figure out what made it creamy, but friends weighed in that it could be pureed nuts (pumpkin seeds) - this turned out not to be the case...I would ladle it over my taco or burrito, scoop it up by the tablespoonful onto their overly-salted tortilla chips, and sneak little plastic containers of it home with me in my purse.

Through a small window that allowed orders to come and go from the kitchen, I tried to ask the cooks what ingredients they used in the salsa. Each time I was told it was made by someone on the previous shift. I always missed the salsa maker.

Smoked Serrano Chile

One day while waiting to pay at the counter I noticed an administrative folder wide open in front of me. It was open to a recipe section with a back issue of Saveur peeking out - one with a picture of a bowl of salsa on the cover. So, I tracked down the back-issue of Saveur in the periodical section of the library, and started there - with the hopes of recreating my favorite salsa. One recipe in this issue seemed close to what I was after, and I used it as a jumping off point. In the end I used a slightly different chile than the magazine called for (thanks to some guidance from Lee James at Tierra Vegetables), and used quite a bit less of them for my first batch (which turned out delicious!). I added a couple splashes of cream to the final salsa and drizzled it in and over the Quinoa + Corn Flour Crepes I made for dinner last night (stuffed with pre-sauteed, sliced, tiny, red potatoes, a bit of grated gruyere, and plenty of chives). Sooo good.

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Salsa of the Year

You also might want to try this with other types of smoked chiles if you can't find the mirasol or smoked serranos (or you can mail order from Tierra). I also want to try it with chiles de arbol (not smoked that I know of). Play around a bit and get to know the different flavors and characteristics of the different chilies. I'm sure some of you chile geeks can offer up some other recommendations for substitutions as well.

3 T. vegetable oil
1 ounce dried mirasol (milder) or smoked serrano (more heat) chilies
garlic, 12 small to medium cloves - peeled
Another 3 T. vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups vegetable broth

Start by rinsing the chiles. Pat them dry with a paper towel. Heat 3T. vegetable oil in a thick-bottomed or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When hot add chiles and the garlic cloves. Cook, stirring regularly until the chiles puff up and the garlic browns a bit and begins to soften up, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a bowl filled with very hot water - soak until soft and pliable, roughly 20-30 minutes (if the water starts to cook - just drain and refill with more hot water). Drain, and remove the stems, veins and seeds of the chilies (I use a small paring knife for this). Puree the chilies, garlic, and broth with a hand blender or food processor. Heat the second 3T. of oil in the skillet over medium high heat. When hot add the chile puree (be careful, the oil is very hot, and the puree should really sizzle when it hits the pan). Stir constantly for 5 minutes or so as the salsa reduces and thickens up a bit. When it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan it is done. Remove from heat and season with salt to taste.

Enjoy this straight: with chips or on fresh tortillas, tacos, and just about anything coming off the grill.

Through the following variations you can really control the strength of the chile flavor as well as the overall spiciness - essentially through dilution.

- Stir in 1/3 cup cream (or to taste) - for a slightly creamy sauce that will add a bit of kick to a wide range of recipes. (this is the sauce you see in the pictures on this post). Drizzle on savory crepes, egg dishes, casseroles, etc.

- Stir a couple tablespoons into light or vegan mayo for a spicy sandwich spread.

- Spread on panini: with all sorts of fixings.

Makes about 1 cup.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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Shannon, re: the calender. It was a tough call ( I loved the calendar too), but I thought there were other things that might benefit from getting moved up into that prime real eastate on the site. If you scroll down a bit on the left side, there is a list of recent posts which functions in a similar way….
Shauna, re: the quinoa crepes. At some point I will publish that recipe (along with others like the thousand layer lasagne)…they may go into a future project, so you may have to wait a bit ;)…


Renee, thanks! i believe you just might be right. now why didn’t i think of that;)


Heidi, as always this looks divine. I’ve never made salsa with cream before, but I have to try it this weekend. Could you post the recipe for the quinoa and corn flour crepes? Once again, as someone who can’t eat gluten, I’m thrilled with the idea of this. What are the proportions?


This is my first time visitng this site. Congrats on the detective work. I’m impressed. I love a good story about food.


Heidi- I LOVE your website, but I miss the calendar. Any thoughts about bring it back?


Steve, you make me blush…
I’m having my family over for a crepe brunch on Saturday and have two bags of arbol chilies – I’ll do a batch with those, I’ll bet they will be delicious.


Hi Heidi,
This comment doesn’t refer to the recipe but your cookbook, Cook 1.0. I just received it, and LOVE it! The pictures are beautiful, the recipes delicious and the layout refreshing. I’m not at all a vegetarian, but a fellow chef and cookbook lover, and I look forward to cooking my way through this book. Have you tried getting Whole Foods to carry it? I think your book is very much in line with their organic/vegetarian sensibilties, and they do sell cookbooks. Just a thought. Keep up the good work!


Katherine, yes exactly – let me update that in the recipe, just to clarify.
Ainsley – maybe scale back on the overall number of chilies, and round out the volume of the batch with some pureed tomatoes (or roasted tomatoes)…the chilies themselves aren’t outrageously hot.
Annie, yes ma’am – I was actually going to attempt another go at buckwheat crepes using a blend of white buckwheat flour and whole buckwheat flour – and couldn’t find the white one…so as I was scanning all of my flour options and thinking about this salsa as a topping, I decided to try the blend of quinoa flour, corn flour, and a few other ingredients – worked fantastic with the sauce and sauteed potatoes (oh, and chives).


Just to make sure (before I ruin a whole bunch of chiles, and possibly my day, attempting this delicious-sounding recipe) you’re starting with DRIED chiles, not fresh, right?


I know that taqueria! Or at least, I think I know the owners who have another – very popular – taqueria down the street from where I used to live in the Mission. I used to go in and just order a quesadilla so I could take some salsa home. Yes, sad but true. My mom and I spent many afternoons trying to figure out the recipe. Thanks! I cannot wait to try it. And, I can’t believe its from Saveur! What finks! I was told it was an old “family recipe.”


I can see I am going to have to educate myself on chilies. There must be a store somewhere near me here in Toronto that sells some of the more unusual ones.
That salsa sounds sooo good! On a panini – ohh …


to Winnie, if you can find chile Guajillo it’s a really mild chili also another one called chile ANCHO

Raja Elissa

Cynthia. The green goo is probably a tomatillo salsa. Very tasty.


Try add a few roasted tomatillos this will round it out and give it a little fuller flavor


Mmmm, Heidi – Thanks for the recipe. My spice-loving boyfriend will love that recipe! Could you recommend some peppers that are milder for those of us who cannot eat anything over a Mild? Thanks!


Yum, Heidi. Those crepes sound good. Was that a recipe you just cooked up on your own?


This looks so good and easy. Could you give one or two other chiles that might be good for this? I live in Oregon and unfortunately don’t have the variety of peppers that you are able to get. Thanks!


oh that looks good. a must try! don’t you just love discovering the “lil’ secrets”?
now could you uncover the recipe of the wonderful green goo at my local taco stand? i swear it’s a cross between salsa n quacamole but they say no avocado involved. the flavor is out of this world.


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