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Last night I tried my hand at refrigerator (fresh) salsa for the first time. It's a random amalgam of things I got for free from a friend's garden

  • tomatoes
  • bell peppers
  • tomatillos (making it a hybrid red-green salsa?)
  • onions


  • jalapenos
  • lime juice
  • salt
  • sugar

to taste. Even with heat from the roasted jalapenos, it's kind of bland. I don't think it needs more salt. My original source recipe said to use cilantro, but I don't think I'll need a whole bunch and I do hate buying it to just use a little bit. The correct answer might be that I need cilantro, but I'm not sure. Since I already have plenty of heat, I don't think I want to add any more hot peppers. What else could I add to help my poor salsa out?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by SAJ14SAJ, KatieK, rumtscho Sep 25 '13 at 16:10

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Toss some cumin in there. Cumin goes well with roasted jalapeño, it adds an earthy smoky flavor. You could also try some ancho chile powder for a fuller, smokier, spicier kick.

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Thanks. I like this idea. We love cumin where I live, so much so that we have considered buying it in bulk. –  justkt Aug 18 '10 at 14:29
When it came to try some of the excellent suggestions (additions ended up being cilantro, cumin, red wine vinegar, a dash of black pepper, and a garlic clove), the one that made the major difference was the cumin. Thanks, everyone! –  justkt Aug 18 '10 at 20:35
@justkt: Buy cumin as whole seed and grinding when you need it will make a huge difference. Freshly ground cumin has much more depth of flavor. –  dmckee Aug 18 '10 at 20:53
@dmckee great tip! I do this too, I just forgot to mention it. Thanks –  hobodave Aug 18 '10 at 21:46

In my opinion- you already answered your own question. Cilantro and lime together is the most beautiful of flavors.

You shouldn't feel bad buying it just to use a little- at least where I live it is very very cheap and it's not wasteful because if you didn't buy it the store would end up throwing it away anyway.

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@Sobachatina - what you say is true, but I'm a cheapskate and if I have an ingredient I prefer to plan meals such that I use all of it rather than planning meals requiring (say) cilantro throughout time and buying little bunches many times. Still, I may buy it and freeze leftovers for future tacos. –  justkt Aug 18 '10 at 14:11
+1: Cilantro is what's missing. Makes a huge difference. –  Satanicpuppy Aug 18 '10 at 14:11
also, check out penzey's if you have one, or a local co-op/community market, as they often sell you dried spices/herbs "in bulk" but if all you need is 2 tablespoons, just buy that –  mfg Aug 18 '10 at 15:04
@mfg - Penzey's is on my list of a place to go (although not for cilantro, I actually own it dried and never use it that way) - thanks! –  justkt Aug 18 '10 at 15:44
@justkt And if you're worried about having to throw out cilantro that you're not going to use, try putting it on sandwiches or in a stir fry; works well there, too. –  Michael Todd Aug 18 '10 at 19:56

Cumin is a good addition to add some depth (you can roast it quickly in a hot pan for a bit of a different flavor). Make sure tomatoes are ripe: the ripening adds some more umami. Chipotle also adds some depth of flavor and a good sweet smokiness. I also love dried ancho peppers, soaked for a few minutes and chopped finely or ground fine.

Cilantro can be stored in a glass of water in the fridge for a 1-3 weeks, depending how fresh it was when purchased. Trim the stems off a bunch, and stand in the water as one would flowers. Water needs to be replaced every 3-4 days, make sure it doesn't run dry.

You can also experiment with different onion types. I like a white, rather spicy Spanish onion for most of my Mexican food. For some salsas, I'll use a sweeter red onion to balance out the chilies and sour from the lime and tomatoes.

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love the roasting for cumin. Makes me wonder if I can't roast some coriander and then grind it to get some of the cilantro taste? Right now I'm using red onion for the salsa, my other option on hand is a standard white. –  justkt Aug 18 '10 at 16:19
@justkt - I roast coriander often for indian dishes. It is delicious but nothing like cilantro at all. It's more lemony. –  Sobachatina Aug 18 '10 at 18:39

It sounds like your basic problem is a lack of depth in the flavor. There are a ton of things you could do to address that:

I think the answer was probably the cilantro. You could also try parsley for a less traditional approach if you have that around. Both parsley and cilantro freeze fairly well, so if you're worried about using up a whole bunch, take if off the stalk, roughly chop, and freeze whatever's left in a ziploc bag with the air expelled. For an even more non-traditional fix, you could also try basil.

How did you prep the tomatillos? I like them done in a food processor so that the taste of them completely permeates the salsa. I prefer tomatoes chopped, by comparison.

In order to add depth of flavor, I'll sometimes use some balsamic vinegar in place of lime. This is obviously not traditional, but works really well. Particularly for a corn / pepper salsa.

I find black pepper can also add some depth of flavor beyond the heat of a jalapeño. It sounds like that depth is what you're missing.

Add some mashed garlic for a different type of spice to round out the heat.

Roast the peppers for a bit of a smokey flavor characteristic.

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everything was done in the food processor. I roasted the tomatillos and jalapenos in the broiler, but cooked nothing else. I like the balsamic idea and may try a small amount. The only salsa I've ever had where I noticed black pepper tasted really off to me, so I'm a bit nervous about adding it. I was wondering if garlic was an acceptable salsa addition. –  justkt Aug 18 '10 at 14:06
@justkt, I don't think you really want to be able to taste the black pepper. You'd certainly want it to be in the background. It just sounds like you need to add some different dimensions to your salsa based on your complaint. –  yossarian Aug 18 '10 at 14:26
1000% behind you on this one, get some fresh cumin and add at least one roasted pepper –  mfg Aug 18 '10 at 15:02
@mfg - there are 3 roasted peppers already in it :) –  justkt Aug 18 '10 at 15:03

Cilantro and garlic!

I would also throw in some chile arbol for good measure, freshly ground cracked black pepper, scallions and perhaps a dash of sherry vinegar if it needed some more acidity.

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Try adding some smoked paprika, e.g. Pimenton de la Vera. This will add some heat as well, so maybe go a little easy on the jalapenos until you've tried it.

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