It seems like every time I go to a summer barbecue, someone shows up with store-bought salsa. Really, people? The host is about to spend two hours smoking ribs and you’re going to show up with a suicide note in a plastic tub? A glass jar full of years-old tomatoes and citric acid? And you call that gratitude? You’re better than this, people. If you can’t be bothered to make your own salsa you don’t deserve to have friends.
It’s Summer. There are beautiful, ripe tomatoes everywhere. Here in San Francisco, you can get nice heirlooms for $3.99 a pound at Whole Foods, which, believe it or not, actually counts as a steal around here (yes, yes, I am an awful obnoxious hipster, mustache wax, fixies, getting my bangs in my grande soy chai etc.). And the thing about fresh salsa is, it’s really f*cking easy. There are like five ingredients, you don’t even really have to cook anything, and it takes maaaybe 20 minutes, tops. And your nice ripe summer tomatoes are perfect raw (just the way your mother likes it).
Disclaimer: I did not learn this recipe from my nice Mexican abuela. I am not a purist, nor a Mexican food historian. I’m just a salsa-loving ass dude who has probably made some version of this a thousand times, and thus feel like confident in this recipe’s relative deliciousness. If you’re looking for the most authentico version, you can find that elsewhere. If you want one that tastes really good, read on. Also, I’d normally make this with roma tomatoes (which are also much cheaper), but I used heirlooms this time, because f*ck it, it’s summer, and because it looks fancier and will impress your bougie friends.
Here are your ingredients:
3-4 tomatoes, depending on size
3-4 jalapeños or serranos, toasted and seeded (I’ll explain this below)
About a half cup of chopped onions (preparation matters more than variety, I’ll explain below)
1-2 smashed garlic cloves (optional — personally, I like a hint of garlic, but it doesn’t matter that much)
Handful of chopped cilantro (same as above — for those of you who can’t stand cilantro, leave it out; for the rest of us, ain’t cilantro delicious?)
Juice of one third of a lime
Splash of white vinegar (call it half a tablespoon)
Salt and Pepper (half teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste, pinch of black pepper)
A Note On Chopping Tomatoes
If you just want to stick all your ingredients in a food processor and pulse it a few times, feel free to skip this next section. That’s fine. I do it that way sometimes, the only downside is that it won’t look as impressive to your friends, and all that time you saved not chopping you’ll just end up using to clean your food processor. Up to you. I find the chopping process kind of zen.
Before we start: do you have a really sharp knife? If not, go buy one. No one wants squashed-ass tomatoes.
Now then. I know you’re tempted to jam the tip of your knife into the top of the tomato to take out the stem, but hear me out here: it’s a waste of time, it makes your tomatoes look ugly, and it’s easy to screw up.
Try this instead: First, cut off a little slice from the the bottom of your tomato horizontally, so that it can sit flat.
Now set it on the flat surface you just made.
Now that your tomato is nice and stable, cut a slab off the side (this is even easier with roma tomatoes, which are already sorta cylindrical).
Now you’ve got a roughly rectangular-shaped slab of tomato, and you shouldn’t have to be Euclid to be able to turn it into cubes.
Here’s the best part: when you do the same with the other three sides of the tomato, you end up with this nice little box shape:
Now you can just discard the light-colored part that doesn’t look like tomato meat (GRR, TOMATO MEAT) and cube the rest.
Isn’t that better (and way easier) than having a weird ugly cone-shaped thing cut in the top? I think so (DO NOT DISPUTE ME).
This next part is kind of anal and not especially important, but I like to combine my tomato cubes and my salt in the bowl while I finish chopping everything else so the salt starts sinking into the tomatoes early.
Most of the taquerias near me use white onions, but I’ve also seen red, yellow, or sweet. I’ve even done shallots. I don’t think it really matters that much. Here’s what does though: rinse them after you chop them. Soak them for 5-10 minutes and then drain, if you can. It takes away some of the harshness. The onions are for crunch, not for flavor.
Jalapeños (Or Serranos)
I like to throw my chiles in the toaster oven before I use them (you can also use a hot pan, a BBQ, a broiler, or the open flame on a gas stove — just blister them on the outside). This is probably the biggest departure from traditional style, but there’s a method to my madness. I like a lot of chile flavor, and you can use more chiles if you toast them. They’re easier on your stomach this way, and you can use more without burning your mouth off, especially if you de-seed them first (which I do). I use about one less pepper than I have tomatoes and then add more if it’s not hot enough.
I used jalapeños. Serranos actually taste better, they’re just smaller and thus more of a pain in the ass to cut. If you have small, delicate hands good for crafting and detail work, use serranos. If you have big dumb-looking ones that you don’t know what to do with on video, use jalapeños like me.
Garlic, Cilantro, Black Pepper, Lime Juice, Vinegar
I don’t think I need to explain how to smash (or grate, or mash, or mince, it really doesn’t f*cking matter) garlic, do I? Not after my intensely anal tomato demonstration. Yeah. So add your smashed garlic and chopped cilantro. Sprinkle with some black pepper, then squeeze your lime, and add just a little splash of vinegar. Mix it up, and you’re done! Time to eat, you handsome motherf*cker!
There aren’t any rules for this part. Your pico goes great with chips, tacos, tamales, fish, sadness, baseball, and pogs — it’s up to you, buddy! Go nuts! You can even combine it with avocados for some easy-ass guac (kind of a waste of good pico if you ask me, but it’s an option). Did you think I made this giant ass bowl of pico for a party? Haha nope! That’s all for me, homes! I eat it with every meal. Also, I am very lonely.
Hell, you can even put it on some pork rinds if you want. I did.
It was tasty. Delicious, even. Enough to distract me from the crushing void for a few minutes.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.