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Salsa – The Royal Condiment

By Cheryl Forberg, RD
Image of Salsa Roja
They’re quick. They’re easy. They deliver big flavor in small doses and add richness we crave. What’s not to love about condiments? On their own, they’re flavorful and healthy choices, but the addictive flavor and creamy texture of many of our favorite condiments quickly turns our well-intended healthy meals and snacks into a disastrous heap of excess (and poor quality) calories.

Defined as a relish, sauce, dressing or other food accompaniment, condiments can be used in a variety of ways to add zip and zest to a meal. You can use condiments in pre-cooking marinades and rubs, incorporate them into dishes as you cook, or offer them on the side at the table.

Types of condiments include:
  • Relishes, salsas and chutneys. Incorporating chopped vegetables and fruits along with herbs and acidic liquids like vinegar or lemon juice, these accompaniments can be chunky or smooth. Although generally considered condiments for savory dishes, they can have sweetish overtones, or range from mildly spicy to flaming hot.
  • Fruit butters, jellies, jams and preserves. Fruit or fruit juice, sugar, water and sometimes pectin are the traditional ingredients in these spreads; to make them more nutritious, reduce the amount of sweetener to bring out intense fruit flavors, and use a healthy alternative to white sugar, such as Melissa’s Organic Blue Weber Agave Syrup.
  • Dressings. A sauce used to top salads and other dishes served cold or at room temperature, dressings can range far beyond the standard oil and vinegar combination. Using aromatic combinations of herbs, flavorful vinegars or citrus juice, and minimal fat can make dressings healthy as well as delicious.
  • Sauces. Any thickened, flavored liquid that accompanies food qualifies as a sauce – from tomato sauce for pasta to crème anglaise sauce for dessert. Swap rich staples like Hollandaise sauce for healthier alternatives that use fruits, vegetables, and herbs and spices to deliver flavor and texture. To achieve richness, use avocado instead of mayo – or combine healthier options for classic favorites that satisfy without unhealthy fats or excess calories, as in the recipes below.
  • Glazes. A thin coating of intense sweet or savory flavor can add another layer of zest to a dish, without adding fat. Reductions of meat stocks or broths, melted dark chocolate or fruit spread can all be used in sparing amounts to boost flavor without sacrificing health.
  • Marinades. Marinades bathe meat, fish and vegetables in flavor prior to cooking. The bath of aromatic liquid typically consists of an acidic substance like lemon juice or red wine, plus spices and herbs.
  • Rubs. Another pre-cooking flavor booster, rubs are a blend of herbs, spices and salt that coat the surface of food – adding a flavor kick with few calories and no fat.
The great news is that most condiments are a snap to make – and you can whip up large batches, so you have plenty on hand to add to meals on the fly. (And you can save a lot of dough-re-mi by making your own).

To maximize a condiment’s flavor boost, consider how the taste and texture interacts with the dish it accompanies. Often, contrasting sensations enhance the dish overall. For example, a smooth fruit butter can add richness to the crunch of a whole-wheat English muffin; a spicy salsa adds zest to the rich buttery texture of a plump juicy halibut fillet.

Speaking of salsa, did you know the Spanish name for sauce refers only to a cooked combo of veggies and spices such as tomato, onion, cilantro, chilies lime juice and salt, for starters? If these ingredients are not cooked, it’s called Pico de Gallo or Salsa Cruda, but not Salsa!

Salsa Roja (or Red Sauce)

Even if your garden is loaded with ripe tomatoes right now, it’s nice to have a reliable canned tomato salsa recipe on hand for those days when it isn’t. This recipe is medium spicy, but I would recommend making it once as written, before dialing up on the heat and adding more peppers. I like salsa on everything, not just chips. My breakfast eggs, grilled chicken, with cottage cheese - you name it. For that reason, my large recipe makes 2 quarts.


1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 cup water
1 medium onion roughly chopped
2 dried Melissa’s chipotle chiles stemmed and seeded
1 dried Melissa’s Oaxaca chile, stemmed and seeded
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano

1 roasted Melissa’s Hatch chile (seeded)
3 (14.5 ounce) cans diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Image of toasted coriander
Toast coriander and cumin seeds in a small sauté pan.
Image of saute
Add water, onion, Oaxaca and Chipotle chiles, and oregano. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Carefully purée chile-onion-spice mixture in a blender. Add the Hatch chile and pulse just to blend. Add tomatoes and pulse just to blend. Should be chunky not smooth. Add cilantro and lime juice and pulse just to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes two quarts or thirty-two ¼ cup servings.

Nutritional Analysis for one ¼ cup serving:

Calories: 15
Calories from fat: 0
Total fat 0 g
Sat fat 0 g
Trans fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 105 mg
Total Carb 3 g
Fiber 1 g
Protein 0 g
Vit A 6% RDA
Vit C 10% RDA
Calcium 2% RDA
Iron 2% RDA
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