Think that Mexican food is all about spice and heat? Think again! In reality, the different salsas and flavors of Mexican cuisine draw upon a rich culinary history, influenced by Spanish settlers, the native peoples of Mexico, and even transoceanic trade! Ultimately, Mexican food is more about exploring a remarkable array of flavors, many of which happen to taste great on the other end of a tortilla chip.
No matter which El Paso location you come to, you will be greeted with a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa roja, or red salsa. As you could probably guess from the first bite, the primary ingredient in this salsa is tomatoes, but there is also cilantro, garlic, and a number of other spices that help make each bite better than the last. By far, salsa roja is the most popular Mexican salsa, and after a bite, it is not hard to see why. Different chefs will often vary the amount of heat by adjusting how much and what kind of chilis are added to the mix. Additionally, different levels of processing can help to differ a salsa cruda, a rather coarsely chopped salsa, from the smoother varieties you will often find at Mexican restaurants around the country.
Salsa verde, or green salsa, is growing in popularity as more people are willing to try different salsa beyond the common salsa roja. Instead of red tomatoes, salsa verde uses tomatillos. Tomatillos are closely related to tomatoes, but it is important to know that they are not simply unripe or baby tomatoes. Instead, they are a completely different species that in addition to being green in color also grow in a husk. Salsa Verde’s color often lends itself to a wide range of spice levels, as it is easy to hide more jalapenos.
For the truly adventurous, salsa mole offers a chance to try something that leans heavily on Mexico’s pre-Columbian culinary heritage. Mole refers to any number of a group of rich, gravy-like sauces, many of which tend to be typically much more uniform in consistency than either salsa verde or salsa roja. However, at most Mexican restaurants in the United States, salsa mole is made with Mexican chocolate. This gives the sauce a deeper range of flavor, but it is not the typical chocolate you might see in a supermarket checkout line. Instead, Mexican chocolate, which has a number of spices, is used to lend color, depth of flavor, and a certain sweetness.
Finally, different enchiladas have different sauces. Typically these are based more on the dominant herb or spice that is used in each; for example, a red enchilada sauce gets its color not from tomatoes, but instead from paprika. The techniques to cook these sauces are often more inspired by European techniques; in fact, a French-style roux is often used to help build the sauces. No matter which salsa sounds best to you, know that you can find it at El Paso today!