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Salsa Roja is the absolute classic, platonic ideal salsa recipe. Made with fresh tomatoes, onion, lime juice, garlic, and just enough serrano pepper to keep you on your toes, this is THE salsa to pair with all your favorite Mexican foods.

Overhead view of salsa roja in bowl

Why You’ll Love This Restaurant-Style Red Salsa Recipe

  • Nothing Fancy, Just Delicious. Salsa roja takes a relatively short list of ingredients and makes something magical. If you marvel over the simple deliciousness of the red salsa your favorite Mexican restaurant serves up while you wait for your chimichangas, you will love this salsa roja recipe.
  • One Simple Step for Maximum Flavor. Some salsa roja recipes are simmered on the stovetop, others blend fresh ingredients and serve. My version is a happy medium between the two, charring the veggies to add depth without taking away from the brightness of fresh tomatoes or the bite of raw onion.
  • A Versatile Use-It-for-Everything Salsa. From Steak Tacos to Chicken Quesadillas and scrambled eggs, there are so many ways to put this red salsa to use. Or set it out at a party with Mexican Corn Dip, Guacamole, and tortilla chips for a trifecta of delectable dipping options.
Tortilla chip dipping into bowl of salsa roja

How to Make Salsa Roja

The Ingredients

  • Tomatoes. I like to use Roma tomatoes because they’re less watery and have fewer seeds than other varieties. That said, if you’ve got a bumper crop of tomatoes from your garden or end up with a boxful of heirlooms from your CSA, you can use any tomatoes you like. 
  • White Onion. White onions are the traditional choice for salsa roja, although you can use yellow or red too. The difference is that white onions are a little stronger and more pungent. (Don’t worry, though, the acid from the tomatoes and lime will help mellow them a bit.)
  • Serrano Chile. Some red salsa recipes will have you use dried chiles, but I’ve found that charring the veggies adds enough depth on its own (and they are easier to find!).
  • Garlic. You can add extra garlic if you’d like.
  • Lime Juice. Use freshly-squeezed lime juice, not the bottled variety which has a dull, flat flavor.
  • Ground Cumin. Just a bit adds some earthiness.
  • Cilantro. If you think cilantro tastes like soap, you can easily skip this. For a really authentic salsa roja, try adding epazote, an herb commonly used in salsas and other Mexican dishes.

The Directions

Tomatoes, serrano, and onion in cast iron skillet
  1. Char the Vegetables. Heat a cast iron skillet and add the tomatoes, onion, and pepper.
Overhead view of charred tomatoes, onion, and serrano in cast iron skillet
  1. Turn. Flip the vegetables and cook until the other side is also charred and blistered.
Overhead view of salsa roja ingredients in blender
  1. Blend. Add the vegetables and remaining ingredients (aside from the reserved cilantro) to your blender. Blend until smooth.
Overhead view of salsa roja in blender
  1. Finish. Season to taste and garnish the salsa roja with the reserved cilantro. ENJOY!

Ways to Use Salsa Roja (Besides Dipping!)

Overhead view of salsa roja in bowl with tortilla chip

Recipe Tips and Tricks

  • Adjust the Consistency to Your Liking. You can puree the salsa completely smooth if you’d like, or make your salsa roja chunky by pulsing it in your blender until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • Thicken If Needed. If you do use a variety of tomatoes other than Roma, your salsa might be a bit thinner than you’d like. No worries! You can simmer it on the stovetop to cook off some of the excess liquid. While the salsa roja won’t have the same fresh flavor as originally written, the flavors will concentrate for a slightly different spin.
  • Make It Mild or Spicy. Leave the seeds and membranes in the chile for a hotter salsa. Use half of a serrano or omit it altogether for a milder version. Another option is to swap in a jalapeño, which isn’t as hot.

Salsa Roja

5 from 3 votes
This easy salsa roja recipe starts with charred tomatoes, onions, and serrano pepper. Blend and enjoy with your favorite Mexican dishes!

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 25 minutes

Servings: 1 cup

Ingredients
  

  • 3 to 4 tomatoes about 1 pound, left whole (I used Roma)
  • 1/4 medium white onion cut through the stem into 2 wedges
  • 1 serrano chile halved lengthwise, seeds and membranes removed
  • 1 garlic clove roughly chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 small lime about 2 teaspoons
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus additional to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro divided

Instructions
 

  • Heat a cast iron skillet large enough to hold the vegetables in a single layer over medium heat. Let it get nice and hot. Add the tomatoes, onion wedges, and serrano chile. Let cook undisturbed for 5 minutes, until beginning to char. With tongs, flip and continue trying on all sides until everything is nicely blistered, about 10 minutes more.
  • Transfer the vegetables to a blender. Add the garlic, lime juice, salt, cumin, and most of the cilantro. Pulse in short burst until the salsa reaches your preferred consistency. It does not take much blending. Taste and add salt as desired. Pour into a bowl, sprinkle with remaining cilantro, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Enjoy with chips, tacos, and any of your favorite Tex-Mex dishes.

Notes

  • TO STORE: Refrigerate salsa roja in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
  • TO FREEZE: Transfer the salsa to an airtight container or freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Let it thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(of 8)Calories: 7kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 0.3gFat: 0.1gSaturated Fat: 0.01gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.02gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.02gPotassium: 71mgFiber: 0.4gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 269IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 5mgIron: 0.1mg

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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5 from 3 votes

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6 Comments

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  1. Thank you for the awesome recipe. I have tried many salsa recipes and yours is exactly what hubby wanted. We stood at the counter with chips and ate a cup of the salsa. We have plenty left for more chips or some tacos later in the week!5 stars

  2. I was tired of seeing my mom endlessly matching her tortilla chips with awful industrial salsa. The last time I saw her I promised to bring her back real homemade salsa. So happy to see this while checking your website earlier and decided to make it since I have all the ingredients. It came out really good. And my mom loves it. Thank you so much!5 stars

  3. I really love the simplicity of this recipe and the depth of flavor is incredible, and it really does taste better and better as it sits. I always use the fresh ingredients I can find, maybe that enhance the flavor as well.5 stars