Classic salsa roja is an authentic restaurant-style salsa with just the right balance of tart, sweet, savory, and spicy flavors. If you love the complimentary chips and salsa at your favorite Mexican cantina, you’ll flip for this recipe!
We’ve all been there—you go to a Mexican restaurant for dinner and you fill up on chips, salsa, and margaritas before your entree comes out. Womp womp.
How can you resist though? It’s not like you can get that restaurant-style salsa at home.
But wait! You can make that salsa at home, and salsa roja is easier than you might expect.
What Is Salsa Roja?
Salsa roja is simply red salsa, which is in contrast to the other popular authentic salsa option, salsa verde. Salsa roja is made with tomatoes, while salsa verde is made with piquant tomatillos.
In a world of salsas made with fruit, beans, and other non-traditional ingredients (see my: grilled peach salsa, grilled corn and avocado salsa, and spicy mango salsa), salsa roja stands out for its simplicity. This is your back-to-basics salsa recipe, but the flavor is anything but basic.
The sweetness of the tomatoes is amplified by a quick simmer on the stovetop, which also cuts the sharpness of the onions. Jalapeño brings the heat, while a blend of spices and cilantro add flavor.
Why You’ll Love This Salsa Roja Recipe
Here's why this salsa roja recipe is going to become a fast favorite:
- Classic recipe. If you're looking for a restaurant-style salsa roja, look no further. There are no peaches or pineapple here; no scorching hot peppers or hard-to-find ingredients. This is a classic salsa recipe that everyone will love.
- Fast and easy. This simple salsa recipe comes together in a matter of minutes. All you have to do is blend and simmer the ingredients.
- Versatile. Salsa roja isn't just for chips and tacos; you can use it in all sorts of meals. Try it with burrito bowls, as a topping on grilled chicken, or served with scrambled eggs.
- Cooked salsa. Cooking brings out the best in the tomatoes, concentrating their flavor and muting some of their acidity.
What You’ll Need
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for this classic salsa roja recipe. Scroll to the recipe card at the bottom of the page to see the exact amounts for each ingredient.
- Ripe Roma tomatoes – I like using Roma tomatoes because they have less liquid than other varieties.
- Onion – White onion is common in salsa, but yellow is fine too.
- Jalapeño – Use less for a milder salsa roja.
- Cilantro – Yes, you can skip this if you’re a cilantro hater!
- Lime juice – Freshly squeezed is best.
- Olive oil
- Smoked paprika – I love using smoked paprika because it adds a smoky element to the salsa, making it almost taste like the tomatoes were fire-roasted.
Do I Need Gloves to Chop the Jalapeño?
I recommend wearing gloves when you chop the jalapeño. The oils from the pepper will stay on your hands, and can easily transfer if you touch your eyes or nose. Although many jalapeños are on the mild side, you never know when you get one that’s hotter than usual—you’ll be glad you wore gloves in those cases!
How to Make Salsa Roja
Although this salsa roja comes together quickly, keep in mind that it’s best served chilled, so you’ll want to account for that when planning your cooking.
- Blend. Blend the tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeño, cilantro, and lime juice in a blender or a food processor until the mixture reaches your desired consistency.
- Cook. Heat the olive oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Pour in the salsa, then add the cumin, smoked paprika, and salt. Stir and bring to a simmer; reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
- Chill. Transfer the salsa to a serving bowl or container and refrigerate until it’s chilled.
Tips for Success
These simple tips will help you make sure your salsa roja turns out perfect:
- Use the best tomatoes you can find. Under-ripe or mealy tomatoes just won’t do. If the tomatoes don’t taste good fresh, they won’t make good salsa.
- Adjust the heat level. For a spicier salsa, leave the seeds in the jalapeño. If you like your salsa milder, omit the jalapeño or add half of it to your salsa roja.
- Add a pinch of sugar if you need to. If you taste the salsa and it’s too acidic, you can add a pinch of sugar for balance.
Salsa roja is a great accompaniment to all sorts of Mexican-inspired dishes. Here are just a few ideas:
- With chips and mango guacamole to start off your meal
- On tacos, burritos, or quesadillas, like my blackened chicken tacos
- On top of huevos rancheros with a side of refried beans
- As a topping for grilled or baked chicken
- On black bean enchiladas instead of enchilada sauce
- As a topping for baked sweet potatoes, along with black beans and crema
How to Store Leftovers
Store leftover salsa roja in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Can I Freeze Salsa Roja?
Yes, you can freeze salsa roja in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 6 months. Just make sure to leave some space in the container so that it has room to expand as it freezes. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving.
More Healthy Dip and Sauce Recipes
- Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip
- Cilantro Lime Sauce
- Vegan Curried Cauliflower Hummus
- Simple Everyday Tahini Sauce
- Blend. Add the Roma tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice to a blender or a food processor. Pulse until the desired consistency is achieved. This is up to you. Some prefer smooth salsa. Some prefer a chunkier rendition.
- Simmer. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the salsa along with the cumin, smoked paprika, and sea salt. Give everything a stir and bring the mixture to a strong simmer. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 10 minutes
- Chill in the refrigerator. This salsa is best served cold.