I always wondered whether a mocajete (aka mortar & pestle) truly made a difference or whether it was just another item to take up space in the kitchen and something else to clean. Well, this fresh salsa roja, made with seasonal heirloom tomatoes and a few other fresh ingredients made me a true believer.
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Using a Molcajete
Mashing the tomatoes, onion, cilantro and peppers together with a little salt released more of the oils and blended the various flavors than my food processor or kitchen knife ever did!
Cooked salsas would be a different story, but when you’re in the high season of fresh, juicy heirloom tomatoes, using a mortar and pestle (aka a molcajete in spanish) will turn your salsa into a food memory that will last all winter.
Just make sure you get a quality Molcajete made of fine-grained lava rock and get one that is large enough for a whole batch of salsa (6 to 9-inch diameter). They need to be pretty heavy to really grind the spices and chiles together.
Flavor Options for Fresh Salsas
The tomato is the star of a salsa roja so first opt for the freshest, tastiest tomato you can find. I use a range of heirloom tomatoes because I grow them and have easy access to them. It’s fairly easy to find heirloom tomatoes at most farmers’ markets these days.
If all you have access to is grocery store tomatoes, then make sure and roast them in the oven first to bring out the flavor. Roasting the heirloom tomatoes is also a good idea and makes them easier to peel and muddle in the molcajete.
I used a jalapeno, but of course any chili pepper works well and just depends on your heat preference. Serranos are a classic salsa pepper, but you can mix it up a bit with Anaheims, Habaneros, or even some sweet bell peppers.
Tomatillos are great in fresh salsas and add a bit of tartness and acid. Lime juice is often added to salsas also. There is no harm in being creative here. Like radishes? Add them!
Pico de Gallo vs Salsa
If you keep the salsa fresh and chunky, rather than a soupier, saucier version you are now treading into Pico de Gallo territory.
I like them all and every which way, as long as they have good tomatoes! Below is a photo of our first heirloom tomato to ripen this year, the Italian Costoluto.
It’s pretty tough to enjoy salsa without the crunchy, salty tortilla chips. The good news is there are now low carb tortilla chips available (I order cactus tortilla chips online) and you can put a little oil and salt on them and bake them at 350 for 10-12 minutes for delicious chips.
If you’re not living a low carb lifestyle, then do the same thing with flour or corn tortillas. They are soooo much better than store-bought!
Recipe for Salsa Roja Using a Molcajete
Fresh Salsa using a Molcajete
- 2 heirloom tomatoes large roma types
- ½ cup onion chopped
- 1-2 tsp jalapeno coarsely chopped
- 1 clove garlic coarsely chopped
- 1 tbsp cilantro
- ½ tsp salt
- To get the most flavor out of the tomatoes, roast them on a sheet pan for about 15 minutes in a 400 F degree oven.2 heirloom tomatoes
- While the tomatoes are roasting, chop the remaining ingredients and muddle together in the molcajete (mortar and pestle) with the 1/2 tsp salt1/2 cup onion, 1-2 tsp jalapeno, 1 clove garlic, 1 tbsp cilantro, 1/2 tsp salt
- Add the tomatoes to the mortar and grind together with the other ingredients (depending on the size of your molcajete, this may need to be done in 2 batches)
- Enjoy with the freshly baked chips and store any remaining salsa covered and in the refrigerator.
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