Make Perfect Salsa Without a Recipe

Salsa is one of the easiest things to make at home, especially when summer ingredients are abundant and a hot grill is at the ready to impart flavor and smoke. And conveniently, if you make a batch of it before dinner, it can double as a snack with some tortilla chips and an amazing complement to grilled steak or fish tacos. Once you know a few of the basic tenets of salsa-making, you won’t need a recipe to whip some up on the fly.

Assemble Your Ingredients
Alex Stupak, the chef behind Empellon and the author of Tacos: Recipes and Provocations, likes to think of salsa ingredients in a framework of four essential categories: garlic, chiles, alliums, tomato/tomatillo. You might choose chipotle chiles if you want a deep, smoky flavor, or jalapeños if you want something bright and light. You might use tomatillos if you want a sharp, acidic green salsa, or ripe tomatoes if you want something sweeter. If you're a little more adventurous, you might try experimenting with insects like grasshoppers and flying ants, like Stupak does. "They add flavor and more importantly a meaningful amount of protein," he says.

Cook Your Ingredients (or Not)
While most salsa ingredients taste great fresh, a little bit of charring or smoking can go a long way. Stupak loves to smoke his tomatoes for salsa, but if you don't have a smoker, you can also try charring your ingredients on a hot grill. This will give your salsa a great concentrated flavor and some beautiful little flecks of blackened tomato skin. Just set your tomatoes/tomatillos, along with any other ingredient you’d like, on the grill until each appears lightly charred. You can get a similar effect by putting each of these ingredients on a baking sheet in the broiler for 5–7 minutes.

Blend Them All Together
If you're in a countdown to dinner guests arriving, you can toss all of your beautifully charred/smoked ingredients into a blender, and you will have salsa in a matter of seconds. If you want to invest a little more time and a little less counter space into your salsa, Stupak recommends a molcajete (a stone mortar and pestle traditionally used in Mexican cooking). "It will give you an intimate relationship with your salsa that a blender or food processor will not," he says. Once your salsa is complete, add a little lime juice, salt, or freshly chopped cilantro to taste.