Salsas in Mexican food and especially in tacos are considered the essence of the dish, because if you have a really tasty salsa it can enhance and complement the flavors of the food and give you the perfect dish. Someone even described it with this great quote: "...the sauce is so effective that it elevates the quality of the good, corrects the insignificance of the mediocre and hides the ordinariness of the bad...".
Even though sauces are the backbone of Mexican cuisine, in them we can find spices from all over the world such as garlic, cilantro, onion, pepper, etc. However, there are two ingredients that cannot be missing in the preparation of a salsa, which are very Mexican. Of course, one of them is some type of chili, which can be in different conditions such as fresh, dried, with or without seeds, toasted, fried or whatever you can think of, the important thing is that it must be there to give that spicy touch that a salsa needs.
The second ingredient that accompanies the chile is a fruit that has been present in Mexico and its culture since the Aztecs. This is the xiomatl or translated into english as red tomato or it can also have tomatillo, which is a green tomato with a sweeter and more acidic flavor at the same time, which sadly is not so easy to find in Europe.
Just as chiles can be in different states, salsa can also be made with different methods. Some people prefer to make raw sauces by simply grinding the ingredients in a molcajete -which is a stone mortar-, or to cooked them and grind them in a blender, but this depends on your taste or the specific use of the sauce, since we have dishes that are usually served with a particular sauce, such as barbacoa with "drunken sauce".
There are an endless types of sauces but the most common ones are red sauce and green sauce and even within these two, the recipe of each Mexican household may vary a little bit. Most people believe that all sauces are spicy, but this is not true since they can be made with a few chiles or more spicy depending on what you want and which type of chilies you use. Now that you know this you can imagine the great variety of existing sauces and those that are yet to be created, as there are some that even have peanuts, pulque -fermented alcoholic beverage- or even ants in them, the point is to get creative!
Here are some recipes you can try to prepare your own red and green sauces and experiment with salsa borracha and barbacoa tacos.
Raw Green Sauce
Makes 250 ml
-6 tomatillos, quartered
-½ medium onion, quartered
-1 bunch cilantro
-4 serrano chiles, chopped
- Place all the ingredients in a blender, add a little water and season with salt until a thick mixture is obtained. If you have a molcajete you can also use it to grind all the ingredients and obtain a more traditional sauce.
Chili de Arbol Red Sauce
-6 chiles de árbol
-1 medium tomato
-1 garlic clove
-¼ medium onion
- salt and apple cider vinegar
- Roast the chiles in a comal/skillet, or fry them with a bit of oil.
- Blend everything and add water little by little until a liquid mixture is obtained.
- Cook the mixture in a pot with a little oil for 3-5 minutes or until it thickens.
- Add salt and a few drops of vinegar and serve. To finish, you can add chopped onion and fresh cilantro leaves to the sauce.
Makes 250 - 350 ml
-6 dried ancho chiles
-1 dried pasilla chile
-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
-¼ cup pulque blanco (alternatively red or white wine or dark beer)
-1 clove garlic
-¼ cup (50ml) orange juice
-50 grams of grated aged cheese
-½ medium onion, chopped, for garnish
- Roast or fry the chiles in oil without burning, for approx. 3-5 minutes over low heat until crisp and remove the seeds.
- Grind the chiles with the pulque, garlic and orange juice in a blender or molcajete until smooth.
- Place in a bowl and add the cheese and salt to season to taste. Garnish with the chopped onion.