With only 6 ingredients, this simple salsa roja recipe tastes like it took a lot more time and effort to make than it actually did.
We keep things easy to help you fall in love with cooking all over again.
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Who likes sauce? If your hand is up, we salute you (it's okay to put it down now).
We're not sure about you, but we find sauces are such a great way to add unique flavors and spices to all of your favorite meals. You'll often see us enjoying our food with multiple different sauces.
Maybe that's why we love Mexican cuisine so much — it's all about the sauce!
What is salsa roja?
Salsa is very a popular term in Mexico because it directly translates to "sauce." But, for most North Americans, salsa generally means "chunky Pace in a jar."
Well... Forget everything you thought you knew.
There are many different varieties of salsa in Mexico — some smooth, some chunky, some fresh, some cooked. As we said, they're an integral part of the cuisine here.
Along with salsa verde, salsa roja (red sauce) is made from cooked vegetables that are blended to create a smoother texture. This makes it ideal for serving over a wide variety of foods.
Too often, salsa roja recipes turn out watery and one-dimensional. It's because one crucial step is missing (find out what it is below).
As with many dishes, the exact origin of salsa is a little fuzzy. Some have traced it back to the Aztecs, while others have traced it back to the Incas.
Wherever it started, the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs all created their own type of sauce with crushed tomatoes, chiles, and other vegetables. It was usually served over certain meat and seafood dishes.
It wasn't until the Spanish conquest in the 1500s that the term "salsa" was coined by Alonso de Molina. Salsa became a popular item amongst the Spaniards and eventually made its way north to the southern states and across the globe.
We love this recipe because it's so easy to make, requires only a few simple ingredients, and stores extremely well!
As always, it's vegan, gluten-free, and can be made without oil.
Let's get cooking!
🍲 Key ingredients
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
Taste: similar in taste to jalapeños, serranos add brightness and spice to any recipe (up to 10x more than jalapeños). We pan roast them for this salsa to mellow out the spice and give a more complex taste.
Fun fact: you may see red serrano peppers, which means they're riper than the green ones. As they turn redder, serranos become even spicier!
Taste: sweet, slightly acidic, and low in water content. Could you ask for anything better in a salsa? Roma tomatoes give you a tangy, garden-fresh flavor in every bite.
Health: we know they're full of vitamin C, A, K, and potassium. But did you know Roma tomatoes contain a special substance, called lycopene? This antioxidant gives tomatoes their red hue and has been shown to protect the heart against disease (give us some of that!).
Taste: this variety gives a sharper, stronger flavor than yellow onions. We are going for a more prominent onion flavor in this salsa, but it can easily be made milder by cooking it beforehand.
Health: this may come as a surprise, but onions are an incredibly good source of vitamin C, B6, and B9. And that's not all! They're a source of potassium, which most of the general population could definitely use more of (protect your heart, guys!).
Taste: the flavor of garlic is often described as warm, spicy, slightly earthy, and pungent. It's a truly unique taste you won't want to miss in this salsa.
Interesting fact: garlic dates back so long that it was believed to be given for strength and endurance to the slaves who built the great pyramids.
If you have questions about this salsa roja recipe, don't forget to check out our FAQ section at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: the best way to make this salsa roja is with a cast-iron skillet. If you have one, preheat it to just over medium (be patient because this takes about 10 minutes).
Step 2: pan roast your tomatoes and serrano chiles whole for the perfect char and smoky salsa flavor!
Note: if you don't have a cast-iron skillet, don't worry! You can also make this by boiling the tomatoes and chilies. Simmer them in a large pot of water for about 15 minutes.
Step 3: in the meantime, dice your onion, garlic, and cilantro and add all those veggies to a food processor or blender.
Step 4: throw in the charred tomatoes and serrano chilies and blend or pulse until you achieve your preferred texture (totally customizable).
Step 5: now for the most important step — simmering your salsa roja! This not only helps thicken things up, but it also creates a more balanced taste. Don't skip the simmering.
Step 6: once your salsa is done reducing, season with some salt to taste and transfer it to a jar to cool in your fridge. Serve this salsa roja as a condiment with tacos, chilaquiles, enchiladas, tortilla chips, or anything else you can think of!
Fridge: store this recipe in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Freezer: make a double batch as this freezes extremely well. Just transfer the salsa to a freezer-safe container for up to 6 months. Ensure you leave a bit of room at the top of the container for expansion.
💭 Tips & variations
We'd like to share some tips and variations we learned while experimenting with this salsa roja recipe:
- Don't skip the seasoning. It deepens the flavors and creates a much tastier end result.
- Add more serrano chiles if you prefer a spicier salsa.
- If you're cooking for one, you can always half the recipe.
- Make sure you're using Roma tomatoes since they're generally the cheapest variety (plus they work the best for this recipe).
🍴 Tasting notes
We know you're going to love this salsa roja as much as we do. It's:
If you try this salsa roja, please rate it and leave us a comment below! Want to stay up-to-date with new recipes? Subscribe to our newsletter or connect with Broke Bank Vegan on social media. Happy eating!
- Cutting board
- Cast-iron skillet
- Blender or food processor
- 2 lbs (~8) Roma tomatoes ($1.27)
- 2 serrano chilies ($0.04)
- ¾ cup white onion, diced ($0.10)
- 6 cloves garlic ($0.24)
- ⅛ cup cilantro ($0.03)
- 1 tablespoon lime juice ($0.06)
- Salt to taste ($0.01)
For reducing optional
- 1-2 tablespoon olive oil
- First, give all your veggies a good rinse. Set aside.
- Preheat a seasoned cast-iron skillet to just over medium (this takes about 8-10 minutes). If your pan isn't well seasoned, rub it with a little olive oil before heating up.
- Once hot, pan roast the whole tomatoes and serrano chilies for 5 minutes on the first side. Flip and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the skins are blackened and the insides are soft.
- If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, cut the tomatoes in half and de-stem the chilies. Add both to a large pot with enough water to cover them. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Once they are done boiling, drain the water (but save it in case your salsa needs more liquid to blend).
- In the meantime, roughly chop your onion, garlic, and cilantro. Add all of these to a food processor or blender.
- Once the tomatoes and serrano chilies are done, remove from heat and de-stem the chilies if you haven't yet. Add both to your food processor or blender along with the rest of the ingredients.
- Pulse until the salsa is to your preferred texture, about 30-60 seconds.
- Lastly, heat about 1-2 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over high. Slowly pour the salsa in and bring it to a low boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Although optional, this will help thicken your salsa and create a richer flavor.
- Once your sauce is done reducing, season with salt to taste. Transfer it to a jar or container to cool in your fridge.
- Serve this salsa roja with chips or as a condiment in tacos, burritos, etc.
- While you don't need to reduce the salsa, we find it deepens the flavors and makes this recipe more balanced.
- 4 Roma tomatoes = approximately 1lb.
- Optional ingredients are not reflected in the price or calories of our recipes.
- Nutritional information is a rough estimate.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
♻️ Similar recipes
For more tasty dips, dressings, and spreads, check out our:
- Homemade salsa verde for a green twist on this red salsa (which team are you on?).
- Pico de gallo if you prefer a chunkier salsa with fresh, bright flavors.
- Chamoy to try a sweet, tangy, spicy, and salty sauce with fruit, drinks, and more!
- Spicy chili-garlic aioli for your new spicy obsession to douse all your favorite dishes with.
Of course! To make this salsa more chunky, just blend it for less time until you reach your desired consistency.
This roasted tomato salsa is about a 3-4/10 on our spicy scale. If you want it spicier you can always add more serrano peppers. If you want it less spicy simply leave them out.
Reducing this sauce is a key element to creating richness and adding depth to the flavors. Don't miss this important step.
Nothing beats the flavor of Roma tomatoes, but you can also use beefsteak tomatoes.