Building a repertoire of go-to dishes is an important part of getting comfortable in the kitchen.

Just as important, though, is having a rotation of elements that can be worked into a variety of other dishes — sauces, garnishes, proteins.

One of the most versatile sauces you’ll find is a red salsa, or salsa roja. Sure, you can dip chips in it, but that’s only the beginning. Use it as a sauce for enchiladas. Shred chicken in it for tacos. Drizzle it over chilaquiles, nachos or fried or scrambled eggs. Stir it into rice. Build a soup or stew base.

For a recipe, I turned to Pati Jinich, the Washington-area cookbook author, chef and host of “Pati’s Mexican Table” on public television. Jinich had already given us a stellar salsa verde (green salsa) recipe, and, as expected, her salsa roja is a winner, too.

Because the ingredients are boiled and then cooked down, the salsa tastes great even with store-bought, not-quite-in-season tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are often suggested as an alternative to out-of-season ones, but I still found that this sauce tasted sweeter and brighter than a similar recipe I made with canned.

You can tweak the recipe depending on how you would like to use the salsa. The instructions as they are written result in a smooth, relatively thin sauce; if you prefer a chunkier salsa for dipping, you don’t have to puree it all the way. Also, if you are interested in a thicker sauce, cook it longer, which will reduce the liquid and intensify the flavor.

Don’t be afraid to adjust the seasoning to your taste, either. Fresh, chopped cilantro can be stirred in before serving, for example. Or add some complementary dried spices to taste, such as cumin, chili powder or ground chipotle.

The generous yield and relatively long shelf life of this recipe mean you have every reason to keep a batch in your refrigerator at all times.

Make Ahead: The salsa can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days.

This versatile salsa roja recipe is from Washington-area chef and cookbook author Pati Jinich. (Becky Krystal, Taylor Turner, Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)


  • 2 pounds vine-ripened, ripe tomatoes (not too large; no need to peel)
  • 2 cloves garlic (skin-on)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed but not seeded
  • 2 ounces white or yellow onion, cut into small chunks (about 1/4 medium onion)
  • 34 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or more as needed
  • 14 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth, preferably no-salt-added
  • Juice of 1 lime, or more as needed

Step 1

Combine the tomatoes, jalapeño and garlic in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium; cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender enough to pierce easily with a knife.

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Step 2

Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to remove the solids from the saucepan so you can drain off the cooking water; you can also do this by placing a pot lid on top, leaving it just enough ajar so the water can be drained into the sink. Return the tomatoes, jalapeño and garlic (slip off the skin from the cloves at this point) to the saucepan and add the onion, salt and black pepper.

Step 3

Use an immersion (stick) blender to puree until completely smooth. Pour the salsa into a large bowl; wipe out the pan. Alternatively, you can puree the mixture in a blender or food processor.

Step 4

Heat the oil in that same saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, carefully pour in the pureed tomato mixture (it will sizzle), cover partially and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, then pour in the broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Step 5

Squeeze in half the lime juice. Taste and add more salt and/or lime juice, as needed.

Step 6

The salsa is ready to use, or you can transfer it to a container, cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Adapted from “Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens,” by Pati Jinich (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).

Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

Did you make this recipe? Take a photo and tag us on Instagram with #eatvoraciously.


Calories: 25; Total Fat: 2 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 50 mg; Carbohydrates: 2 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 1 g; Protein: 0 g.