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Salsa de Molcajete

Recipes

Salsa de Molcajete

Lynley Jones

Classic Mexican tomato salsa, made from simple ingredients and served warm. If you don't have a molcajete (mortar and pestle), see notes for instructions to make this with a food processor or blender.

Makes 3/4 cup

Ingredients

Salsa de Molcajete made in the Adventure Kitchen. Broiled tomatoes and toasted serranos with fresh garlic and a little salt. Very simple and really great.

1/2 pound plum tomatoes

1-2 serrano chiles (depending on your heat preference, see notes)

1 fat cloves of garlic (or 2 smaller ones)

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt (or half this amount if using table salt), plus another pinch if needed

Instructions

1. Preheat the broiler to high. Position the rack so that the tomatoes will be about 4 inches from the heat source. (In my oven, that's the second position down from the top.) Put the tomatoes on a small roasting pan, lined with foil if needed. Broil, turning once about halfway through, until the skin is blistered and blackened in spots and the tomatoes have softened (but before they are falling apart), about 10-12 minutes total.

2. While the tomatoes are roasting, warm a small skillet over medium-high. Add the chiles to the dry, hot skillet, tossing and turning them occasionally, until their skin is blackened all over and they have softened, about 3-5 minutes.

 Ingredients for Salsa de Molcajete: tomatoes, chiles, garlic and salt.

Ingredients for Salsa de Molcajete: tomatoes, chiles, garlic and salt.

3. While the tomatoes and chiles are cooking, peel the garlic and add it to the molcajete. Smash it up a bit with the pestle, then add the salt and continue smashing and grinding as the garlic begins to liquefy and pulverize. 

4. When the chiles are ready, remove their stems and add them to the molcajete, one by one, grinding each one as thoroughly as possible with the pestle before adding the next one. About 1 1/2 serranos should make for a medium-hot salsa, so add as much or as little as you'd like based on that.

5. When the tomatoes are ready, remove their skins and add them one by one to the molcajete, grinding each one up thoroughly with the other ingredients before adding the next one. No need to remove the core; you can just grind it into the salsa.

6. Taste and add a pinch more salt if needed. Serve from the molcajete, and serve quickly while it's still warm.

Notes:

 Tomatoes under the broiler. Aim for about 4 inches from the heating unit for this. In my oven, that means putting the rack in the second slot down from the top. That distance allows the tomatoes to cook more gently, giving them time to cook through as the skins blister.

Tomatoes under the broiler. Aim for about 4 inches from the heating unit for this. In my oven, that means putting the rack in the second slot down from the top. That distance allows the tomatoes to cook more gently, giving them time to cook through as the skins blister.

A molcajete is a Mexican mortar and pestle made of volcanic rock. This salsa is one of those rustic, traditional dishes that works best when hand-ground, for lots of reasons. If you have a mortar and pestle that doesn't happen to be volcanic, you can and should still use it of course! And if you don't have one, you can use a blender (keep reading). 

You could boil the tomatoes and chiles instead of broiling and toasting them as in this recipe. I like to make it this way, because I like the flecks of charred chiles in the finished salsa, and I feel like broiling concentrates the tomato flavor in a way that boiling doesn't. But my Mexican friends tell me both methods are used in Mexico. 

 Adding the blistered serrano chile to the garlic and salt to make Salsa de Molcajete.

Adding the blistered serrano chile to the garlic and salt to make Salsa de Molcajete.

This salsa is classically served warm, as soon as it's made, before the ingredients have even had time to cool to room temperature. It's not intended to be made ahead and stored; the whole idea is that it's freshly made and eaten right away. So if you use a molcajete to make this, then by all means serve the salsa in it so your guests can see it's the real deal! 

Also, because it's an eat-right-away type of dish, I wrote the recipe to yield 3/4 cup, an amount you might use up at a single meal. If you're serving a large crowd, you could double it of course. But if your mortar and pestle holds around 2 cups or less (like mine), you'd need to make it in batches because it wouldn't fit all at once (or just make it in a food processor or blender, see below).

If you really want to make it ahead, you can, but remember that flavor doesn't travel to the palate as well when cold. The ingredients in this salsa are really simple - just tomatoes, chiles and garlic. No cilantro, no lime, no onions. So you may want to gently re-warm it before serving (I would think the microwave is your best bet).

 My son couldn't wait to taste it, straight out of the molcajete before it was finished.

My son couldn't wait to taste it, straight out of the molcajete before it was finished.

If you don't have a molcajete or mortar and pestle, you can pulse the ingredients in a blender. Don't over-process; the final product should be a little chunky and uneven, not a perfectly smooth puree.  

If you can't find serranos, you can substitute jalapenos. Jalapenos are larger, so I usually estimate about 1.5 serranos = 1 jalapeno. Remember that each individual chile can differ in it's heat level, so taste and decide as you go.