There should be music at your Cinco de Mayo party. There should be the makings of a couple of cocktails and a good selection of beer. Colorful streamers and strings of lights wouldn't hurt, either. But really, the snacks are the most important part of any party, and a Cinco de Mayo party is no exception.
In addition to the taco fixings and the pitcher of margaritas, no Cinco de Mayo spread is truly complete without at least one homemade salsa. The improvement in flavor you'll get from using fresh ingredients, plus your ability to customize the heat level and add smokiness by charring the vegetables, will make it far better than anything store-bought. Try your hand at one of these nine recipes, or send this list on to your guests and tell them to bring a batch of their own! Check out our Cinco de Mayo recipes for more holiday-appropriate food and drink ideas.
Classic Pico de Gallo
This classic pico de gallo is fresh, light, colorful, and versatile enough to put on just about everything. Our recipe calls for little more than fresh tomatoes, a white onion, hot chilies—either jalapeños or serranos work well—and cilantro. A squeeze of lime and a dash of salt balance it out and help to draw out flavor from the tomato and onion.
You could make a salsa from exactly the same ingredients called for here without roasting them first, but the difference in outcome is dramatic. Broiling the tomatoes, jalapeño, garlic, and onion before pulsing them in a food processor brings out their flavors and gives them a richness they lack in their raw state. Stir cilantro and lime into the blended salsa, then give the mixture some time to sit and strengthen in flavor before serving.
Yucatán-Style Hot Dried-Chili Salsa (K'uut Bi Ik)
Fruity, fiery, and intensely smoky, this deep-red Yucatecan-style salsa has the added benefit of requiring almost no cooking. We microwave dried árbol and pasilla chilies until they're fragrant, then blend them with a mixture of lime juice, grapefruit juice, and orange juice, which substitutes nicely for the sour-orange juice traditionally used here.
Extra-Hot Yucatán-Style Roasted-Habanero Salsa (Chile Tamulado)
Twenty-four whole habanero chilies go into this supremely hot Yucatecan salsa, which gets a fruity edge from the same combination of grapefruit, lime, and orange juices used in the k'uut bi ik recipe above. We char the habaneros and the garlic cloves to infuse the salsa with a whiff of smoke. Use very sparingly unless you're a serious chili-head or glutton for punishment, or both.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
Basic Salsa Verde (Mexican Tomatillo Salsa)
For those who like the citrusy, bright flavor of a good salsa verde, this is the most basic and straightforward way to get there. Simply simmer tomatillos, jalapeños or serranos, and onion until the vegetables are thoroughly softened, then purée with cilantro in a blender. All in all, you'll spend a grand total of 15 minutes on it and be rewarded with a salsa that's superior to the store-bought stuff (plus the bragging rights that come with making salsa by hand, of course).
Charred Salsa Verde
Ready to take salsa verde up a notch, or several? The simple step of charring the vegetables for your salsa will do wonders, bringing out the ingredients' sweetness and adding smoke and overall complexity. You don't even need to peel the tomatillos, onions, and chilies after broiling them in this recipe: Just dump them all in a blender along with their exuded juices, add cilantro, and purée. To intensify the salsa's flavor, we pour the puréed mixture into heated oil before seasoning and serving.
Hot and Creamy Salsa Verde
The base of this dip is essentially that of a classic green salsa, but the addition of a couple spoonfuls of sour cream softens its acidity and heat and smooths out its consistency into something more pourable. To ensure it still has plenty of kick, we use more Poblano and serrano chilies than tomatillos, for a salsa that's spicy, bright, and just thick enough to cling to a tortilla chip.
This unusual spin on salsa verde incorporates oranges along with roasted and raw tomatillos, giving it a sweet and tangy profile that's a welcome departure from tomato-based salsas. Chopped chipotle chilies in adobo sauce furnish a smoky flavor that plays along well with the sweet citrus.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
Peach Salsa With Pickled Red Onions and Serrano Chilies
The natural sweetness of finely diced fresh peaches does a great job of counterbalancing the heat of serrano chilies in this vibrant salsa. Pickled red onions add bright acidity. This recipe makes a chunky salsa with very little liquid, so it's best as a dip for chips or in dishes that don't need extra moisture—think fried fish or braised meats.