The Unorthodox Epicure — Classic Tex-Mex Salsa

There was a time when I had to be forced to eat Mexican food. It’s true.

‘I have news for you two,’ my mother told my sister and me. ‘You’ll have to eat the special tonight.’

‘But why?’ I asked. ‘I like the chicken-fried steak. That’s not fair!’

The time was about 1978 and the restaurant was Lupe’s. The owner had previously managed the El Chico on U.S. 80, where my parents celebrated their marriage several years earlier. Now he was on his own, and the folks in my hometown were loyal to him.

Wednesdays at Lupe’s featured a cheese enchilada plate for $2.99. The other items, such as chicken-fried steaks, were regular menu price — $3.99 to $5.99 — and my parents decided that the youngsters in the family were defeating the purpose of eating out on a budget. Back then, I didn’t realize that I could ask for a dish without those crunchy onions. So, I just picked them out — one by one.

The tomato salsa had a little bite, but the freshly-fried chips helped me to disguise the heat. I didn’t realize it that night, but I was becoming hooked. The chips and salsa (called ‘hot sauce’ in my neck of the woods) ended up being the root of my unhealthy lifestyle. Fast forward a few decades and my discovery of Guadalupe’s in Gladewater, Texas. The food is classic cheesy-gooey, chili-slathered Tex-Mex. Enchiladas. Tamales. Fried Tacos. There are plenty of spots with more carefully prepared main dishes, but Guadalupe’s produces the beloved tomato salsa of my childhood.

My Classic Tex-Mex Salsa is just like the stuff at Guadalupe’s and hundreds of other little Tex-Mex dives. It’s slightly tomato-sweet with a definite jalapeno bite and an onion finish. And it’s smooth enough to stick to a chip, even when you try to shake off the excess. I’m not sure where this salsa will take my 13 loyal readers. But, as a Texan who grew up when Tex-Mex was becoming popular, Classic Tex-Mex Salsa takes me back to a time of real comfort.

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Classic Tex-Mex Salsa

1 (28 oz can) – Crushed tomatoes
2 cups – Fresh cherry tomatoes
1 – Medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup – Vinegar
1 bunch – Cilantro
1 TB – Tomato paste
1 TB – Plain (not iodized) salt
3-4 – Serrano peppers (or Jalapeno peppers), stemmed and seeded

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor to your desired consistency. Simmer in a large saucepan for about 45 minutes. Serve chilled with tortilla chips, or as a condiment for anything Tex-Mex.

Classic Tex-Mex Salsa is good for about two weeks in the fridge, or it can be preserved via the hot water bath method. Process for 10 minutes.

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  1. I’m pretty sure I could eat my weight in this salsa… experimentation and research in process soon 😉

  2. I’m with Becca; put a bag of chips and a big bowl of salsa in front of me and I’ll call it a meal. Your version sounds very much like what we get at our local Tex-Mex place … and I love it.

  3. My trips to Texas have been few, but I LOVE the food. It is like nothing in Wisconsin. We may have a better cheese curd than Texas, but y’all can win the salsa’s hands down. Definitely going to be trying this after my next trip to the grocery store!

  4. 13 of THE most loyal fans ever! ( Kind of like the 13th man of my beloved Seahawks! Super Bowl Champs if you hadn’t heard yet!)
    This sounds so good. Many (!) years ago, there was an artisan salsa being sold at Sam’s Club and I could drink it from the bottle. LOVED IT. My husband told me one night, in the middle of the night mind you, that IF I BROUGHT ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE !&*#%# BOTTLES OF SALSA IN THE HOUSE he would leave.
    I guess he didn’t appreciate the spices, onion and garlic in it quite like I did.
    This looks equally as good just upon reading the recipe. Cannot wait to try it. I am trying to eat healhier. Salsa, in moderation, is still on the menu for me. Soon!

    • adamjholland says:

      How awesome are you, Jill? Thank you! ~ So… There’s an elephant in the room now. Why did your husband make such a late-night threat? And, did you bring another !&*#%# bottle of the salsa in the house? 😉

  5. Oh man! Pass me the salsa, with a side of chips and and Prevacid, please!!! That looks awesome.

  6. I love your simple recipe for this classic salsa. I really think I try to hard when I make mine. Pinning this to try very soon. My first ever “Mexican” food in my small Kansas town was a private owned restaurant and I always ordered Sanchos. Every heard of Sanchos? I really must try to recreate them one of these days.

    • adamjholland says:

      Thanks, Lea Ann. Can’t say that I’ve ever heard of a dish called sanchos. Please tell me more.

  7. Love the story. I have a similar recipe from my favorite place here for salsa (Chimi’s). It uses canned tomatoes and fresh ones and it makes a TON.

    • adamjholland says:

      Thanks, Debra. I’m glad you pointed that out, because it’s something that I managed to miss while writing this. While fresh salsas are the bomb, the only way to recreate a restaurant version is with canned/preserved varieties (because that’s how they do it). I use fresh cherry tomatoes in this recipe because I’m looking for the sweetness. Of course, they’re cooked, so they might as well be canned. 🙂

  8. RuthAnn Schmidt says:

    Adam, I love these trips down memory lane! Sincerely! And I remember that night or one like it – the crunchy onion thing. Last time I was in town I believe I saw two Lupe’s still open with cars out front and it is good to know that Tex-Mex is alive and well in the Piney Woods! Thanks for the receipe.

    • adamjholland says:

      You know what they say, Mom — if it’s not written down, it never happened. 😉 Those were my worry-free days and I miss them dearly. Too bad some of those restaurants don’t seem to taste like the did 30 years ago.

  9. Our mutual love of Tex-Mex is one of the many things that keeps me coming back to your blog again and again! So, I have pinned to my Tex-Mex Terrific Pinterest Board and I plan on making this Friday night for Tex Mex night!

    • adamjholland says:

      Whether you end up loving it or hating, you’ll know that you are eating the old-school Tex-Mex stuff. (Of course, I hope you love it!)

  10. Great salsa! And loving your “that’s not fair” story!!

  11. Janet Anderson says:

    If Chicken-fried steak is on the menu, my son orders it, and iften it’s the special. This salsa sounds just right – and I appreciate the lack of cumin!

  12. You just have to forgive us Northerners up here – we’re just now seeing a few Mexican ‘style’ restaurants and I’m sure you’d laugh at what they serve. Interesting…a salsa that sticks to the chip!

    • adamjholland says:

      Oh, I’ve laughed at what they serve, Diane. But they’ve come a long way up there, believe it or not. One of my top 5 Mexican favorite Mexican joints was in Middletown, NJ.


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