When I recently ordered a taco al carbon at one of favorite Mexico City taquerias, the server brought out the usual array of table salsas. There was a tart, bright-red salsa chunky with fresh onions and cilantro. There was a smoky chipotle salsa sweet with pineapple. And there was a bright green salsa, thin and smooth.
When I reached for the spoon in the green salsa, my server cautioned me, saying that the salsa was fiery. "Tiene mucha fuego!" he said.
I suppose that with my light hair and blue eyes it may look like I can't handle the heat, but I told him I grew up in Texas, and snack on habaneros for fun.
I then liberally doused the green salsa all over my beef taco and took a bite.
He was correct. This was a fiery salsa--but it was a quick burn that didn't appear to do much harm to your lips or insides. And this salsa was fresh. If green could have a taste, this would be it.
Most green salsas use tomatillos as a base, but this salsa didn't have a tomatillo's signature tang. And this salsa was almost evenly green, whereas salsa verde made with tomatillos will be riddled with countless seeds. I was curious about this salsa, so I asked my server how it was made.
He refused to tell me--insisting that it was the taqueria's secret recipe. But secret or not, I had no shame and begged the server to tell me how the salsa was made. Finally, after much cajoling, the server revealed the recipe. It wasn't that much of a surprise: As I suspected, it was just a purée of serrano chiles, onion, garlic and cilantro. Such a simple salsa and yet so satisfying.
We've had an abundance of serrano chiles at the farmers' market, and I can think of no better way to put a large bag of them to use. It's an extremely versatile salsa, but I especially love it with beef.
About the author: Lisa Fain is a seventh-generation Texan who now hangs her hat in New York City. To keep in touch with her roots, she writes and photographs the food blog Homesick Texan.
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 small white onion, diced, 1 tablespoon reserved
- 10 serrano chiles, stems removed
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup cilantro
- 3/4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
In a skillet, heat the oil on medium and add the onion (except for the one tablespoon set aside), serranos, and garlic cloves. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until the skin on the chiles starts to pop and bubble.
Transfer chiles, onion, and garlic to a blender; add cilantro, water, vinegar, cumin, and salt. Purée until smooth, add more salt if desired, and top with reserved diced onions.