El Sarape’s House Salsa

El Sarape's House Salsa Fresca | Culinary Compost Recipes

This is my version of a popular salsa fresca served at El Sarape Mexican Restaurant, in Green Bay Wisconsin. Through experimentation, I’ve deduced they use two signature ingredients which puts their salsa in a class by itself. Control the heat by seeding the jalapenos — their version however, is quite spicy, which is how I like it.

On a side note, El Sarape is one of only two restaurants in the area serving authentic Mexican cooking. Their two-pound burritos are epic. Enjoy!


1 10.5 oz. package cherry tomatoes
2 large jalapeno peppers (core and seed them if you want to control the heat)
1 small white onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 green stalk onion (scallion) roots trimmed, with greens
1.5 cups loose-packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp. ground Mexican oregano
1.5 tsp. salt, to taste


Reserve the salt for the last step*. Prep and wash everything and place in a food processor with the ground oregano. Pulse until a fine texture is achieved (you may need to scrape down the work bowl with a spatula.) Carefully remove the cutter blade and salt to taste. Mix well and let stand ten minutes before serving.

Makes about 3 cups.

*NOTE: Salt wreaks havoc on your food processor blade, dulling it very quickly. Add it last to avoid this issue.

Due to the large volume requirement, I suspect El Sarape’s salsa is processed in a blender. I prefer to present mine with a little more texture, using a fine-cut food processor pulse blade.

Pico de Gallo Salsa

Pico de Gallo Salsa | Culinary Compost Recipes


This is a classic chopped salsa which means “Beak of the Rooster” in Spanish. It is traditionally quite spicy due to the serrano chilis. You will not find it this way in most restaurants, as they invariably default to a very mild salsa for mass appeal, which I think is a big mistake. Chop the ingredients by hand using a very sharp knife. You’ll need that keen edge so you can ensure precise cuts and not risk mashing the tomatoes. Also ensure the ingredients are chopped uniformly, so the color and texture stand out. Let sit for a half hour before serving so the flavors have time to incorporate. If you must put it in the fridge, do so only after trying to use most of it — the cold kills the flavor and texture, and it sadly won’t be as good the next day.

Enjoy – this is a classic that I serve with many recipes. It never fails to please.


2 medium-sized plum tomatoes
10 garden cherry tomatoes, preferably yellow/orange for color contrast
1 cup loose-packed cilantro leaves
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3 large serrano chilis – fired using a propane torch
2 large cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 tsp. salt, to taste
Dash of fresh-squeezed lime juice, to taste


Cut the ingredients into 1/4″ sized chunks. Do not use a food processor. Place in a mixing bowl. Stem and fire the serrano chilis. Then coarsely-chop them and leave the seeds intact.
Crush and finely-mince the garlic. Add with the salt and lime juice.  Toss gently and let stand at room temperature before serving.

NOTE: You may need to remove a bit of the water left after standing for 1/2 hour. This is a normal reaction to salt. Compensate by adding a bit more lime juice after this separation.

Makes just over two cups.

Salsa de Chili Pequin

Salsa de Chili Pequin | Culinary Compost

This is an authentic salsa that originated in the Sonoran desert of Northern Mexico. It is popular in Arizona and New Mexico due to the availability of the hot dried chili pequin pepper. The pepper is a close relative of the very small chiltepin pepper — essentially from the same cultivar; Capsicum Annuum var. Glabriusculum. If you have dried chiltepin peppers on hand, feel free to use those instead — they tend to be more spicy.

My recipe is extremely hot – adjust the heat to your preference.  You may use a propane torch or your oven broiler to blacken the cherry tomatoes. Don’t skip this step, as it’s critical to achieving the smoky, charred flavor that makes this dish so special.

Let stand for an hour in the fridge before serving. En Fuego!



30 cherry tomatoes, washed and drained in cold water.
3/4 cup loose trimmed cilantro leaves
3 small handfuls dried chili pequin peppers (about four tbs.)
4 cloves garlic with husks on
1 tbs. Bragg’s Organic apple cider vinegar
Pinch of salt, to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. dried ground Mexican oregano
1 tsp. dried ground coriander seed
up to 3 tbs. cold water (use more if needed)



Wash thirty small, fresh cherry tomatoes and set aside. Wash and trim the fresh cilantro leaves.

Heat a small, heavy cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add the dried pequin peppers. Toast lightly, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Remove from heat. Toast the garlic in the husks using the same manner. The garlic will take longer to toast. Remove when slightly charred, and then peel.

In a heavy eight-inch cast-iron skillet, blacken the cherry tomatoes with a propane torch. Use extreme caution – when possible use this technique outdoors to prevent a fire hazard. Stir occasionally to ensure they are evenly blackened. Remove from the skillet and place in a blender with the cilantro, toasted pequin chili, the garlic, vinegar, salt and ground black pepper. Add the ground coriander and Mexican oregano.

Pulse until smooth. Add a bit of cold water if you need to. Remove and let stand in your refrigerator for one hour before serving.


Makes just over one cup.
Heat level: 8


Toasted Chili Pequin and Garlic | Culinary Compost

Toasted chili pequin and garlic in a cast-iron skillet.

Blackening Cherry Tomatoes | Culinary Compost

Blackening cherry tomatoes in a cast-iron skillet, using a propane torch.

Salsa Arriero con Ajo (Mule Driver’s Salsa with Garlic)

Salsa Arriero con Ajo (Mule Driver's Salsa with Garlic)

Grilling the serrano peppers, onion and garlic over hardwood charcoal in a griling grate.

This is a traditional Mexican salsa recipe that can be quite spicy. You can blister the serrano chilis and onion on a cast-iron comal or fire them over wood coals. Honestly, for me, it’s much easier to use a dedicated grill basket over charcoal. The salsa is traditionally ground by hand in a molcajete – a handcrafted lava-rock bowl consisting of a mortar and pestle, but you can also use a food processor with a pulse blade. Serve on fresh-toasted tortillas with shredded Queso Fresco or Monterey Jack cheese.


20 fresh serrano peppers, washed and stemmed
1 small white onion, quartered
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Kosher salt, to taste
a few tablespoons water, if needed
XV Olive oil
Shredded Queso Fresco or Monterey Jack cheese


Wash and stem the serrano peppers. Peel and quarter the onion. Peel the garlic cloves. Prepare an outdoor charcoal grill with enough hardwood coal for a small fire. When white-hot, place the grill pan over the coals and add the peppers, onion and garlic. Sear and let blacken for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, place in a food processor and pulse until rough-choppeed.  Add the cilantro and Kosher salt to taste. Add a small amount of water if needed. Stir well and let stand to incorporate.

Using a comal or cast-iron pan, heat the tortillas on medium with a bit of olive oil until lightly browned. Flip occasionally to ensure they don’t burn. Remove from heat and cut into quarters. Place the salsa and cheese on a quarter tortilla. Serve immediately.

Serves 4-8.
Heat Level: 7

Spicy Smoked Salsa Roja

Spicy Smoked Salsa Roja

Here’s a Southwest salsa recipe with a unique twist – the tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onion are smoked over wood chips for two hours. The result adds an entirely new dimension to a traditional red salsa. If you have access to an electric smoker, you’ll have better results with more control, due to the built-in thermostat — but using a traditional covered grill with offset heat is just fine.

The final product will be reduced by about half, due to the water content rendering out during the smoking process. Roma tomatoes are preferred because they have, on average, the lowest percentage of water. The garlic and onion will mellow to a wonderful, earthy flavor. You can use any hard or fruit wood – I’ve found that hickory or applewood works best. If using mesquite, use reservation as it can quickly turn bitter.  Enjoy!


3 tbs. XV olive oil
8-10 large Roma tomatoes – cored and halved
2 large garden Hot Hungarian wax peppers – trimmed, seeded and cut in 2″ chunks
2-4 mature red garden jalapeño peppers – trimmed and halved, with seeds and membrane left intact
1-2 small garden habañero peppers – trimmed (optional)
1/2 red onion – cut in four pieces with the layers separated
4 large cloves garlic (peeled)

1 cup washed cilantro leaves
Juice from 1/8 lemon wedge (optional)
1-2 tsp. salt, to taste



Carefully wash the tomatoes and peppers and prepare with a sharp knife. Add to a large mixing bowl with the onion and garlic. Add the olive oil and toss lightly to coat.

Prepare an outdoor electric smoker by preheating it to 275-degrees F. Place the water pan in the bottom, but leave it empty. You can line it with foil for easy cleanup. Seal the door. When preheated, place the mixed tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic in a perforated grill pan directly on a center rack above the water pan. Seal the door and add one cup of wood chips to the chip loader. Smoke for two hours, replenishing the chip loader ONCE after 45 minutes. Do not over smoke.

When finished, turn off the unit and remove the contents from the perforated grill pan and place in a food processor. You’ll need to work in batches. Pulse until the desired consistency is achieved. Add the cilantro and pulse again. Transfer to serving bowl and salt to your preference. Add the lemon juice. Mix well, let stand for 20 minutes and serve with blue corn tortilla chips.

Makes about 2.5 cups
Preparation time: 1/2 hour
Smoke time: 2 hours
Rest time: 20 minutes
Cerveza time: Whenever the hell you feel like it

Fresh-picked garden tomatoes, Hungarian wax peppers and jalapenos.

Fresh-picked garden tomatoes, Hungarian wax peppers and jalapenos.

The smoked salsa ingredients after hour one.

The smoked salsa ingredients after hour one.

Spicy Smoked Salsa Rojo

The ingredients shown after the second hour. For this recipe, I used Jack Daniels’ Whiskey Barrel smoker chips.

Tomatillo Salsa with Fired Serrano Chilies

Wood-Fired Tomatillo Salsa | Culinary Compost RecipesYet another variation on my fresh, traditional salsa verde. In this recipe, the serrano chilies are fire-roasted until charred. This method adds a subtle, complex flavor that is distinctively different. You may choose to fire the peppers on a grill, gas burner or with a propane torch.  Any of these methods work great.  There’s no need to peel them afterward — just stem them and pulse in your food processor until the desired consistency is achieved.  Note that a pinch of ground toasted whole cumin seed is also added.  The result?  Perfection.

In many traditional Mexican salsa recipes the tomatillos are simmered and then blended. Culturally, each has its place — and people seem to be vehemently polarized on their opinion of which they like better.

I love this version; it is very refreshing on a hot summer day.


12-16 fresh tomatillos, husked, washed and cored
6 large, fresh serrano chili peppers
1 medium onion, peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed (try roasting it, as an option)
1/2 cup washed and trimmed cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. ground cumin – toasted from seed
2 tsp. salt, to taste


Peel the tomatillos and ensure they are completely washed clean in cold water. Core and quarter them and place in a food processor. Blacken and stem the serranos. Add to the processor with the onion, mashed garlic cloves and cilantro. Pulse until finely-chopped, but not smooth. Add the salt and toasted ground cumin. Mix well and let stand for 1/2 hour before serving.

Serves 6-8
Heat Level: 7

Salsa Verde |Culinary Compost Recipes

Use a good-quality food processor when preparing salsa. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and produce more consistent results. Choose one with a large-capacity work bowl, strong motor and a pulse switch. Shown is a premium Breville® Sous Chef 12-cup food processor. The pulse feature allows you to quickly process ingredients with just a few pushes of the button. Note the consistency of the cut. The unit costs a lot more than your average processor, but you get what you pay for.

Guajillo Salsa

Guajillo Salsa Recipe | Culinary Compost

This is a wonderful salsa made from dried Guajillo chili peppers and ripe plum tomatoes. If the Guajillos are too spicy, you can cut the heat by adding more tomatoes.



8-10 dried Guajillo peppers
2 plum tomatoes, seeded
2 large cloves of garlic
Pinch of dry ground coriander
Pinch of dry Mexican oregano
1 tsp. salt, to taste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced



Place the dry Guajillo pods in a large cast-iron skillet and heat over medium until lightly toasted and aromatic – about 5 minutes. Press them down and turn once so they don’t scorch. Remove and trim stems. Remove the seeds from the pods and place in a blender with enough water to cover the peppers. Let stand for at least a half hour.

Pour out the water from the blender and reserve. Measure 1 cup of the water and place back into the blender. Add the peeled garlic cloves, coriander, salt, Mexican oregano and cilantro. Pulse until smooth.

Add the seeded tomato and pulse again until smooth.

Let stand 20 minutes before serving. Makes about 2.5 cups.