Only on Vacation: Salsa Fresca

Far and away, the most beloved pre-dinner snack in our house is chips-and-salsa. Every night, while the grown-ups are do-si-do-ing around each other assembling something that resembles a meal, the kids are generally popping into the kitchen to dunk a chip into a bowl of decanted Trader Joe’s salsa (and ask, yet again, dinner almost ready? Mom? Dinner almost ready? Dad?) It would never occur to me to make that salsa from scratch. Even if the tomatoes were in season all year long, even if I had more time than the usual turbo-charged weeknight affords.

But when I’m on vacation, as I am now, it’s a different story. For as long as I can remember — pre-book, pre-blog, maybe even pre-diary — one of the first things we ever started experimenting with was fresh salsa. Even when the tomatoes weren’t perfect like they are right now, even when we had a perfectly acceptable jar of prepared stuff in the fridge, we’d make a point to chop up a few heirlooms, toss in some onion, play around with hot sauce and tomato paste and cilantro before striking the right formula. It’s so easy, in fact, that every time we make it, as we did last night, we wonder why we never make it back home. Of course as soon as we ask the question, we answer it immediately: Some things just belong on vacation.

Salsa Fresca

There’s definitely no official recipe for this, which is another way of saying that you should have some spare chips by your side so you can taste and correct as you concoct. (Chef’s privilege!) But the basic idea is this: Chop up 1 or 2 of the freshest tomatoes you can find — heirlooms are best, but really any good summer tomatoes will do. (And chop them into smaller pieces than you see above.) For every cup of chopped tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons cilantro, 1 tablespoon finely diced red onion, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, dash of hot sauce, salt and pepper. That’s your baseline salsa fresca, but even that is flexible depending on how juicy the tomatoes are (and how juicy you like your salsa). Once you have your base, you can add whatever you’d like: corn, chopped yellow peppers, chopped peaches, pineapple. If your tomatoes aren’t quite as flavorful as you’d like them to be, whisk a little tomato paste into the red wine vinegar before tossing with tomatoes. Serve with chips.

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Love fresh salsa, never was really a fan of chunky salsa. I do however like not blending the ingredients like this for guacamole, always tricks you into thinking it’s some how healthier than it already is.


I started making fresh salsa about a year ago, I rarely have since bought a bottle of the stuff – even in the dead of winter when tomatoes are … less than stellar fresh salsa tastes so bright and lovely – and it always gets rave reviews. I have this chopper that dices every piece into a perfect mirror of the other so the whole process takes maybe three minutes.


From experience, I will also note that this tastes fantastic with some grilled fish — especially if there’s pineapple in the mix. Sarah: Love the sound of that chopper. Might need to invest in one for the vacation house.

Margit Van Schaick

Tomato season is so wonderful! And so short. For me, during the height of the season, it would be unthinkable to limit making fresh salsa, from daily to 2-week vacation only. Unless your vacation lasts throughout the entire tomato season, choosing Trader Joe’s when one of Summer’s greatest eating delights is available seems so sad. Fresh, home-made salsa is why I grow tomatoes, even when the only place to garden is in pots on my balcony, front steps, or tiny patio. Your recipe inspired me to make sals immediately upon reading.


Try this one night while on vacation: 5 or more small tomatoes chopped, 1 onion chopped (or 1/2 if large), 2 jalapenos, juice of 1/2 lime, 2 Tbsp cilantro and a good dash of salt.

We consume this nightly at this time of the year, with everything but the salt and lime coming in from the garden. So fresh and light. Pica de gallo.


Perhaps I should have noted to chopped those jalapenos, though it seems obvious. What might not be is that you should use a spoon to pull out the seeds and white lining before you chop if you don’t want too much heat. And you will think it is too much onion when you’re chopping but the equal ratio is what makes all the difference.


there are so many perfectly ripe and juicy tomatoes right now that i have just been eating them whole, but this is great way to make them last a bit longer.


We’ve been getting the kids to make us a big bowl of guacamole in the evenings. Will have to get them making salsa, too!


Love this. We’ve been enjoying fresh tomatoes this year even more than usual.
I’d love to hear your menu for the week back from vacation. I always find that so hard…need some inspiration!

A Life From Scratch

Homemade salsa is the best – my best friends nanny makes it from scratch weekly and we call it her ‘crack salsa.’ 🙂 I give her $5 a week for a mason jar filled to the brim!


I love making my own salsa, and I’ve been experimenting with different recipes. I’ve never added much vinegar or oil, but – having read your post here – I think those will both be part my next batch.
Thanks for posting!


The pictured item is not salsa. It is Pico which is a salad in Mexico and mus-identified in the US.


Are you sure about the 1/4 cup of vinegar? I cut it down to half of that, and it was still very vinegary – I might go with just a tablespoon next time.