Salsa Wars – Recipes for Roasted Tomato, Beet & Tomatillo Salsas

Salsa Wars Finalists

Over the years, I’ve become a bit of a salsa virtuoso. I point to my Mexican roots for precipitating the fondness for chile-based condiments.

Salsa, which means “sauce” in Spanish, originates back to the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas in Mexico and Central America, where sauces were made using tomatoes, chiles and a variety of other ingredients including seeds and berries, depending on availability and location. They encompassed sauces that were cooked and smoothed and those that were chunky and raw.

Growing up, salsa was on the table at every meal, right next to the salt and pepper. Whether it was my dad’s hot roasted green chiles mashed to perfection in the molcajete with garlic or my momma’s impromptu fresh pico de gallo with garden-fresh tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos – salsa was the choice condiment for everything from tacos to eggs to pizza.

Today, salsa still reigns. Although my definition of it has expanded beyond Mexican and Latin American cuisine.

So, when I got the chance to be a judge at Salsa Wars, Denver Public Library’s salsa recipe contest, I jumped on it. The event was part of DPL’s Street Food series in July, which highlighted food from Peru, Brazil and Mexico.

As a judge, I had the pleasure of tasting the six finalist salsas, and the task of picking my favorites. I was torn . . .

Do I vote for the more traditional Salsa Jefe with roasted chiles and tomatoes or the roasted tomatillo-based Garlic and Lime Green Salsa – both of which I could eat leisurely with chips while I have a cold beer or margarita? Or, do I vote for the Salsa Puttanesca with capers and anchovies that would be great on fish, but I wouldn’t touch with chips? Then, there was that darn Caramelized Onion Salsa that tasted divine but called for an hour plus to caramelize onions?

There was also the lure of ingenuity with the roasted beet Red Square Salsa – tasty but more of a side dish than a salsa? And, a green tomato salsa that appealed to the gardener in me.

Ultimately, I channeled some Iron Chef judiciousness. Along with two other judges – Chef Shellie Kark of Kitchen cue and Jesse Ogas of Encantada Catering, we selected the winners:

1st Place:  Salsa Puttanesca-Salsa Italian Style – by Beth Hewlett

2nd Place:  Salsa Jefe – by Rocio Rowland

3rd Place:  Caramelized Onion Salsa – by Laura Kark

Other Finalists:

Red Square Salsa-Salsa Russian Style – by Beth Hewlett

Garlic and Lime Green Salsa – by Katherine Linder

Coleen’s Amazin Green Tomato Salsa – by Coleen Walsh

Below are recipes and pictures for half of the finalists. I cooked up the three (in bold) and made a few notes in italics. The remaining three recipes can be found on Chef Kark’s blog and her Facebook page.

Salsa Jefe with roasted tomatoes

Salsa Jefe – by Rocio Rowland (Second Place – Salsa Wars)

Make 3 cups

From Rocio:  This is a family recipe, my father prepares this salsa when he cooks Huevos Rancheros, he puts it on the top of the eggs. Everytime I get back to Mexico the first thing that I ask my father to cook for me is, guess what? Huevos Rancheros. I call the salsa “Salsa Jefe” that means “chief” or “boss” in Spanish because one of my brother-in laws calls my father “jefe”, so I think that was the right name.


3 medium tomatoes

3 serranos

2 slices of onion (about ½ inch thick each)

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

A pinch of coarse sea salt


In a heavy frying pan or cast iron skillet roast (or a Mexican comal if you have one) all the vegetables on medium-high heat without oil until blackened on all sides. Turn tomatoes frequently to avoid cooking them throughout. The vegetables will sizzle and pop as they blacken, so use tongs to turn chiles and tomatoes and a spatula for the onions. Place the blackened chiles, onions and garlic in a blender with the oil and the salt and blend. Next add the tomatoes one at a time and blend. If your tomatoes are hot, make sure to use the lid to avoid burns. Cut the tomatoes if you have to, to assist in blending. Blend to desire consistency. If needed add salt to taste.

You can use Salsa Jefe on top of huevos rancheros, grilled chicken or just with chips. It is also good cold or warmed.

Red Square Salsa with roasted beets and dill

Beet salsa freshly made before the beets infused everything with color

Red Square Salsa-Salsa Russian Style – by Beth Hewlett

Makes about 3 cups


3 medium, ripe tomatoes, diced

3 fresh jalapeño peppers

½ medium onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste

3 roasted or boiled beets, skins slipped, diced small

2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced

½ chipotle chile (canned in adobo sauce), finely diced (add more for extra heat)

Dill sprigs to garnish

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper


Roasting whole beets: Preheat grill or oven to 350 to 450 degrees. Clean beets – remove beet tops, scrub but leave skin on. Cut beets in half or quarters to get uniform size and reduce cooking time. Cut a large sheet of foil, to make a packet for beets – place beets on one side, drizzle  with about 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Tightly seal ends and place on a flat baking sheet. Roast on the grill for about 30 – 50 minutes depending on the size and freshness of beets. (Fresh beets took 30 minutes on the grill.) When done, remove from heat and allow to cool to touch. Use gloves or a papertowel to rub/pull off skins. Dice beets small.

Note: Roast extra beets at the same time for use later.

Place half of the diced tomatoes in a medium mixing bowl; crush with a potato masher or by hand. Add the rest of the diced tomatoes to these. Finely dice the jalapeño peppers and add to the tomatoes. For subtle heat, I leave the seeds and veins on one jalapeño, and clean the rest before dicing – if you like it hotter, leave more seeds and veins before finely dicing the peppers. Add the onion, olive oil (I used the olive oil used to roast the beets), salt and black pepper and stir to combine.

Once the basic salsa is prepared add the diced beets, fresh dill and chipotle chile; stir to combine. Allow this salsa to rest refrigerated several hours or overnight for the flavors to blend. Serve with a generous dollop of sour cream and fresh dill to garnish.

Garlic and Lime Green Salsa with roasted tomatillos

Garlic and Lime Green Salsa – by Katherine Linder

Makes about 3 cups

This salsa is best served immediately after making it. Besides tortilla chips, it goes well with chicken or pork tacos.

This version of green salsa leans toward the sour side. I think lime juice is optional and should be added sparingly while tasting frequently. I also added some finely diced onions at the end to give it a little more texture. If it is too thick, thin with a tablespoon or two of water.


1 pound tomatillos

4 – 7 jalapenos*

1 ripe avocado

1 lime

1 clove garlic

½ cup cilantro

*The amount of jalapenos can vary depending on your taste and the heat of the jalapenos.


Roast tomatillos and chiles on the grill or broil in the oven until slightly blackened. Meanwhile, mash the garlic with a little bit of water using a mortar and pestle if you have them or in a blender. Add the garlic, tomatillos and jalapenos in a blender and blend until smooth. Mash the avocado and chop cilantro. Combine blender ingredients in a bowl with the mashed avocado and cilantro. Squeeze in some lime juice and salt to taste.

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11 Responses to Salsa Wars – Recipes for Roasted Tomato, Beet & Tomatillo Salsas

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by salsacityhoppers, ForkFingersChopstick. ForkFingersChopstick said: New recipe post @ForkFingersChop: Three salsa recipes from Salsa Wars recipe contest last week. […]

  2. Wow! Three posts in one! GOR-GEOUS photos! Am curious to know how you came to your decision for the winners. Were you influenced by the other judges (by committee) or did you decide independently of them?

  3. Lana says:

    I just wanted to let you know that I won the first prize in the fourth r. Bayless’s Tweeter installment! I am so geeked!

  4. I judged the Salsa competition at the OC fair a few weekends ago. It was so fun! Like your family, salsa accompanies all my meals. The puttanesca does sound like a winning choice.

  5. The Salsa Jefe is making my mouth water with the addition of those little charred bits. I can imagine exactly how that would taste. Yum!

  6. I made a mango salsa, told my students in my English class about it, and they, traditional Mexicans that they are, could not believe I would even think of making a fruit salsa! They almost couldn’t stop laughing. It’s all a matter of perspective, but I think anything can go into a salsa, as long as there are chiles. Omit the chiles, and you don’t have salsa anymore.


  7. @Lentil: We assigned individual points to each sauce and selected a winner.

    @Lana: Congrats.

    @Kathleen: Some may think it a bit sacreligious to use mangoes but fruit, including berries and seeds was used in early Mexican salsas. One of my favorite salsas is with mango tambien.

  8. sippitysup says:

    I am going to post a trio of salsa myself later in the week! These finalists all look terrific. GREG

  9. What a fun experience! I’m a sucker for tomatillo salsa. In fact, I just made a new one the other night.

    I finally started harvesting tomatillo’s out of my garden.

  10. @Greg: You can never have too many options when it come to salsa. Three are good – usually I prefer one fresh pico de gallo, a red salsa and a green version.

    @My Man’s Belly: My early girl tomatoes are finally coming in – but not so early. I didn’t plant tomatillos this year.

  11. […] 3 Salsa Recipes: Roasted Tomato, Beet & Tomatillo Salsas […]

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