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A basic table salsa, this salsa roja recipe is easy to make to serve with your favorite dishes. Pan roasting the tomatoes and peppers adds depth of flavor.
My younger son has become a salsa connoisseur, rating all of his favorite restaurant salsas on a scale only he knows.
He’s been eating chips and salsa ever since he was young, and I’ve had to make many batches of salsa over the years to keep up with his cravings.
This homemade salsa roja might seem basic, but you only need a few ingredients to bring out the incredible flavor everyone wants on their tacos and tortillas.
Salsa roja is a simple red salsa, pretty much what you will find at restaurants across the country and in many homes, alongside salsa verde (tomatillo salsa). Even though the basis of the recipe might be common, every family tweaks their own version to make it just how they like.
This is my family’s particular favorite, with just the right amount of heat from serrano pepper and a squeeze of lime to bring it all together.
If you’ve ever wanted to make your own salsa at home, this is the perfect recipe to give it a try!
Ingredients for salsa roja
Tomatoes – The best tomatoes to use for salsa are paste tomatoes like Roma, because they are meaty and have fewer seeds and juices.
You can use any tomato you have on hand, though I do recommend removing the excess seeds and pulp if needed.
The tomatoes are not peeled, as the roasted skins add flavor to the salsa.
Onion – I recommend white or yellow onion.
Garlic – Garlic cloves vary in size, so adjust up or down depending on what you have, and your own preferences for garlic.
Serrano pepper – Use as many peppers as you like for heat. Even though serrano peppers are small, they can pack a punch!
If you want to keep your salsa milder, use a jalapeño instead of serrano pepper. Removing the seeds in the peppers will reduce the heat levels as well.
Salt – Season the salsa to taste, and remember that you will likely be eating it with salty chips!
Cilantro – Even if you don’t like cilantro, you’ll want it for this salsa. The flavor of the cilantro here only serves to enhance, not overpower, so don’t worry!
You can always use less if you are cilantro-averse.
Lime – Adding a bit of lime juice balances the flavor of the salsa and brings in a bright note.
Olive oil – The blended salsa is simmered in olive oil until thickened. This is seasoning the salsa — you can always choose to skip this step if you like a runnier salsa.
How to make this recipe
In a dry skillet (cast iron works great!) over medium heat, roast the tomatoes, serrano, and garlic cloves on all sides until char spots form.
You’ll need a pair of tongs to turn things frequently. The tomatoes will roll around a bit and will not get evenly roasted on all sides, but that’s OK.
Once roasted, remove from the pan. The garlic will be ready first. Cut the stem off the serrano and de-seed if desired.
Add tomatoes, pepper, and garlic to a blender or food processor along with the chopped onion and a handful of fresh cilantro.
Pulse until chopped to your liking. I usually leave it a little chunky rather than totally smooth. It’s up to you!
Return the same pan you used before to medium heat and add the olive oil.
Once the olive oil is hot, pour in the salsa. Let the salsa simmer for 10-15 minutes, until thickened.
Season to taste with salt and lime juice and remove from heat.
You can serve this salsa warm or chilled. The flavors will meld more as it rests, so I like to pop it in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
What to serve with salsa roja
This classic red salsa goes with just about everything!
Eat with scrambled eggs or a simple bowl of rice and beans.
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- 24 ounces Roma tomatoes, about 6-8
- 1 to 3 serrano peppers
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- Handful fresh cilantro
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- Lime juice, to taste
- Warm a dry skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, pepper, and garlic and roast on all sides, turning with tongs as needed, until blackened in multiple spots.
- Remove stem from pepper and add to blender along with tomatoes, garlic, onion, and cilantro. Pulse until chopped to desired consistency.
- Return the same skillet to medium heat and add olive oil. Once the oil is hot, pour in the salsa and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until thickened.
- Season to taste with salt and lime juice. Serve warm or let cool.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Makes about 3 cups
- For more heat add more peppers; for less heat use a jalapeño in place of the serrano.
Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate based on online calculators. Any nutritional information found on Stetted should be used as a general guideline only.
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