How to Make Salsa as Good as a Mexican Restaurant
We're all partial to the chips and salsa at our favorite Mexican joint. Learn how to make salsa at home that's just as good.
If you have a food processor or a blender, there’s really no reason not to make salsa at home. It’s as easy as throwing your ingredients together and pulse-pulse-pulsing until it’s done. This homemade, restaurant-style salsa is nothing like that jarred salsa from the store. (Though we’ve found the best salsa brands!) It’s fresh, it’s full-flavored, and you can really taste each individual component. Trust me, you’ll find yourself diving in, dip after dip, whether you’re hungry or not.
Ready to get started? Our Test Kitchen experts have found the best-ever salsa recipe. Follow along to learn how to make it step-by-step.
How to Make Homemade Salsa as Good as a Restaurant’s
Yield: 7 cups
- 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, drained
- 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with garlic and onion, drained
- 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) Mexican stewed tomatoes, drained
- 1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained
- 1 medium onion, quartered
- 2 banana peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro (you can skip this if you can’t stand the taste)
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- Tortilla chips (for serving)
You’ll also need a 12-cup food processor or a blender (if you have a smaller food processor, you may have to blend this recipe in batches)
Step 1: Prep Your Ingredients
Taste of Home
With canned tomatoes, this step is a breeze. Just drain the canned tomatoes (draining makes your salsa have a thicker texture) and plop ’em in the food processor. If you’re subbing fresh tomatoes, give them a rough chop and into the processor they go.
Test Kitchen tip: I love fresh, summer tomatoes, but I stick to the canned variety the rest of the year. Canned tomatoes are picked and packed at the peak of their freshness, which means you’ll have sweet, ripe tomatoes all year long.
Next up is the peppers. Remove the seeds to make a milder salsa, or leave them in for the spicy, sinus-clearing kind. Always wear disposable gloves when cutting hot peppers (the oils can burn your skin). Definitely avoid touching your face and other sensitive areas until you discard those gloves and wash your hands.
Now all you have to do is mince the garlic, chop the cilantro and toss in the spices. Finish it off by squeezing in your lime juice (some recipes call for vinegar, but we prefer the vibrant punch of fresh lime juice).
Step 2: Pulse Away
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Now that all the ingredients are in the food processor, it’s time to decide if you’re on Team Chunky or Team Smooth. Personally, I’m a smooth salsa kind of girl. When everything is well blended, those flavors really come together (plus it’s easier to keep the salsa on the chip). If I want a chunky salsa, I’ll opt for pico de gallo, but the choice is yours.
Pulse the food processor a half dozen times and check the consistency. Scrape down the sides using a rubber spatula to make sure all the ingredients get incorporated. If you’re going for chunky salsa, stop here. For a smoother salsa, go ahead and pulse another half dozen times.
Test Kitchen tip: You can use a blender instead of a food processor, but it’s harder to make a chunky salsa. With the blender, you may have to stop and stir the ingredients from time to time (especially if your blender isn’t that powerful).
Step 3: Taste and Serve
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If you’re not tasting, you’re not cooking! So dip a chip in there and make sure the salsa is to your liking. Tasting with a chip allows you to fully experience the salsa, adding crunchy texture and salt to the party.
If you have time, give the salsa a few hours in the fridge (or overnight if you can) to marry and meld the flavors. Think of it like a high school dance: It starts with attendees on separate sides of the gymnasium but ends with a comfortable group of people dancing their hearts out. After a few hours in the fridge, the salsa ingredients will know each other better, and it’ll taste perfect.
Test Kitchen tip: If you think something’s missing but you can’t put your finger it, add a small amount (one or two teaspoons) of neutral oil. Fat carries flavor, and the oil will add a decadent texture to the dip.
How to Use Leftover Salsa
This recipe makes a huge amount of salsa. Though I love having extra around for snacking, if you find yourself with a boatload of leftovers, it’s time to think outside the chip. Salsa isn’t just for dipping or topping your nachos. Our Test Kitchen experts got creative with these fun ways to use up leftover salsa.
- Marinades: Salsa is naturally acidic and bursting with salty flavor. Use it as a tenderizer or marinade for all types of meats.
- Soups: Looking to make your soup more exciting? Look no further than salsa. From black bean soup to chicken noodle, a few spoonfuls of salsa will be sure to amp up the flavors.
- Veggie bowls: Add salsa to a bowl filled with rice, beans, and roasted vegetables. We especially love how this sneaks in extra vitamins for those picky eaters in the family!
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs or Bloody Marys get a hit of heat and bite with the addition of fresh (and potentially spicy) salsa.
- Burgers: Mix in a tablespoon or two into burgers for a fusion meal that can’t be beat. This trick works well for meatloaf or meatballs, too!
- Freeze it: If you find yourself with a bunch of extra salsa and can’t squeeze it into the weekly meal plan, head to the freezer. While fresh salsa tends to freeze poorly, cooked salsa freezes really well. If you’re using canned tomatoes or roasted tomatillos, freeze it up!
How to Make It Your Own
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can add more flavor to your dip, as salsa is infinitely variable! Here are some of our favorite substitutions:
- Fruit: Swap out some (or all) of the tomatoes for fresh fruits like cherries, mango or pineapple. It’ll be bright, colorful, and add a nice sweet-tart flavor. Or blend in a few tablespoons of dried fruits (like tart cherries or raisins) or citrus zest (orange, lemon, or lime) to create a surprisingly nuanced flavor combo. If you love fruit salsa, learn how to make mango salsa at home. It goes great with so many summer dishes.
- Black beans and corn: Make your salsa extra hearty by stirring in a can of black beans and a can of corn (drain and rinse them). If you’re feeling especially bold, substitute hominy for corn—this underappreciated ingredient is fantastically earthy and chewy.
- Tomatillos: Tomatillos bring a smoky astringency to your salsa and are totally worth the extra effort. You know, those gorgeous lantern-shaped orbs that you’ve been eyeing in the produce aisle? Sub in two pounds of bright green, firm tomatillos for the tomatoes. Prep them by peeling off the papery husks, rinsing, and broiling for 5-10 minutes, turning frequently, until they’re charred. (If you’re short on time, use jarred tomatillos and a teaspoon or two of adobo sauce to bring the smoky component.)
- Nuts: Have you ever had nuts in your salsa? This secret ingredient will make your dip simply unforgettable! Add a cup or two of roasted peanuts or cashews, blending them into a smooth salsa that is both creamy and rich. It’s perfect for dipping or spooning over grilled chicken or veggies. Que delicioso!
- Spices: Go crazy with the spices! You can easily customize your salsa with your favorites from the spice rack. Go classic with cumin and oregano. Add warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg to make fruit- or nut-based salsa sing. Just add those spices carefully—a little goes a long way!
Now that you know how to make your own salsa, it’s time to start exploring other traditional Mexican sauces. Join us as we answer the question, what is mole sauce? Learn all about its ingredients and how you can make it at home.