As anyone with the tiniest knowledge of Spanish will tell you, “salsa” means sauce. It’s a very broad term that includes smooth sauces, chunky sauces, thin sauces and thick sauces of whatever color made with a myriad of ingredients. Surprisingly or not, however, in American food shows, cookbooks and blogs, salsa is equated with the uncooked Mexican-style chunky tomato-based chili sauce used primarily as a dip.
The problem there, of course, is that salsa becomes limited to a much narrower category of dishes in contradistinction with the cultural origin of the Spanish word from which the Mexicans derived what the Americans refer to as the Mexican salsa. In Mexican cooking, salsa is exactly what it means in Spanish—sauce—and that includes both the chunky uncooked dips that most Americans call Mexican-style salsa (broadly, salsa picada) as well as smooth cooked sauces like the mole, and all other sauces of varying textures in between.
Interestingly enough, in Filipino cooking, sarsa often refers to the thickened liquid in which meat has been stewed. Dipping sauces are called sawsawan, rarely sarsa. Dipping sauces, are of course, ubiquitous in Asia (see “The dipping sauces of Asia“). The distinction may be gleaned from our cultural and colonial background. The Philippines was a Spanish colony for over three hundred years. But before, during and after the Spanish colonialization, we were very much in touch with our Asian neighbors and we have assimilated so much of their food cultures.
Having said all that, this, then, is my version of salsa fresca — a dip made with chopped tomato, onion, chili, pimientos, cilantro and lime juice.
But, wait! Isn’t that pico de gallo in the photo? If the ingredients were more coarsely chopped, it could be pico de gallo. But since they are chopped rather finely, it is salsa fresca; the difference between the two being textural.
- Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds (this will prevent the salsa from getting too watery). Give them a regular chop (see how to chop, illustrated).
- Peel the onions and give them a regular chop as well.
- Grate the garlic.
- Remove the seeds of the pimiento and chop. Yes, regular too.
- Finely chop the cilantro and scallions.
- Toss everything together. Add the lime juice and zest, and some salt. Stir. Taste. Adjust the seasonings, if needed.