Mexican Salsa Roja


We gather in the small apartment kitchen, myself, Carlos, our friend Mando and his very pregnant wife, Naji. They have invited us over for dinner again and this time they welcome us behind the curtain that separates the kitchen from the living room, to watch them prepare the meal together.

They work in perfect rhythm, this young couple from Veracruz, never fighting for space at the stove. She drops a handful of chiles into a sizzling pot of oil and while she’s turned to the counter to chop tomato, Mando reaches over to add seasoning to the diced lengua and stir it with a wooden spoon.

“Cocina usted, Don?” Mando asks Carlos, using the nickname his Mexican co-workers had given him his first day on the job.

Carlos laughs, “Honestamente, ella cocina casi todo,” he responds.

“Tiene que aprender, Don, para que usted le ayude a ella,” Mando says, surprising me with his lack of machismo. He tells us how he diced the lengua the night before, that it took him two hours, and I can see why. The meat is in perfect, uniform cubes, each one smaller than a sweet pea.

I ask Naji if she’d mind me writing down the recipe for the salsa she’s making. This, I realize, is the bright orange salsa I love – the one Carlos often brings home from work in a twisted plastic bag, a gift from Mando’s lunchbox. Naji smiles and tells me to go ahead. I pull out a little notebook and pen from my bag, I start scribbling down the ingredients and the generous extra tips she gives me.

Soon the kitchen fills with all the delicious scents of tacos de lengua. The meat is seasoned and cooked, the salsa prepared, the cabbage finely chopped with a large, sharp knife. Naji warms corn tortillas and cuts limes into wedges while Mando pours glasses of agua de uva. Now it is time to sit together at the table and eat this meal made with love.

Mexican Salsa Roja


• 2 handfuls of chiles guajillos secos – stems removed (about 8 chiles guajillos)
• 2 large tomatoes chopped (or 1 can diced tomates, 14.5 oz, no salt added, undrained)
• 1/2 a medium onion
• 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
• 3 tbs. canola oil
• 2 cups water
• 1 1/4 tsp. salt

Optional: 1 can chiles in adobo, 7 oz. (Adding this will make it much spicier so beware! I do not use the chiles in adobo in mine, but our Mexican friends do.)

Note: You can use chiles japones secos instead of chiles guajillos for spicier salsa


1. In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, add oil, dried chiles, onion and garlic. Chiles should have stems removed. When you remove stems, seeds will fall out. Include the seeds in the pot.

2. Stir continuously taking care not to let it burn. After a minute or two, add tomato. Stir over medium heat another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. In a blender combine 2 cups water, salt and contents of pot.

4. Blend 1 minute until mostly smooth. (If you prefer a thinner salsa, add more salted water and blend.)

5. This step is optional: To make the salsa spicier and add a lot of flavor, add 1 can chiles in adobo. Blend for another 30 seconds.

6. Return contents to pot. Stir salsa over medium heat for 2 minutes.

7. Allow to cool.

8. Keep refrigerated in jar or container for 1 week. (You could also can or freeze it.) Use on tacos or anything you like.


  1. que perfecto que has puesto esta receta ahorita! Pasamos mañana ala casa de mis primos, y una prima me pidió hacer las salsas. Normalmente hago salsa verde o de molcajete pero casi nunca de rojo. Andaba buscando una receta cuando recibí esta de ti! Mil gracias, voy a hacerlo con chiles piquin para que sea aún mas picosa!

    • Oooo, chiles piquín! Now you’re talking! Hope it turns out well for you. Let me know!

      Note: When I made this on my own I used 1 1/2 cups salted water (which is what I estimated my friend used since she doesn’t measure anything!) but the salsa came out a little thick so I changed this recipe to 2 cups water and upped the salt a little. Hopefully that’s about right but you may have to add a little more. Just check the consistency while it’s still in the blender and adjust if needed!

      • It turned out great! I did it with guajillo, a few arboles, and maybe 6 piquín. I also added some cilantro while it blended. It was delicious. I’m so glad you posted this!

  2. I want to try this! But I’m not sure where to get chiles guajillos secos, are the in the produce section or usually in a bag in the ethnic foods section? Or do I need to go to a tienda latina

    • Hola Julie! the dried chiles can be found at your Latino market in large bags, usually on the wall where all the spices are in smaller bags.

      If you live in an area with a decent Latino population, sometimes you can find these bags at Wal-Mart. They are usually kept between the produce section and the deli on one of those displays where you find jars of garlic.

      So you know what you’re looking for, here is what they might look like (the first two are the brands I buy most often but it doesn’t matter:

      If you have any more questions, I’m here to help!

      • I’ll tell you a secret about why they are pretty much the same, regardless of brand: Normally, this packing companies are US based, and they buy the chiles or whatever they pack from the same importer, and all they do is pack it. So, their products most of the time are the same. I love cooking, and are kinda good at it, so I know a little bit about this things. The only thing that I’ve tried to duplicate and just can’t, is Lucina’s recipe for tamales. We make tamales almost every weekend, cause some time ago, she made some and gave to some friends, now they order them all the time from us. Now, we were not planning on becoming tamal makers, but life is weird. So once I tried mixing the masa myself and it did not work, so ever since then, I cook the meats, cut the chiles, cheese, make the salsas, and fold the tamales, but don’t even try with the masa. I rather not mess with perfection. So, some time ago I started this recipe website, and most of the recipes are mine (Lucina calculates stuff “a la mexicana” so we never know how much of what). There may be a couple you may want to try. The site is NEVER going to be complete, but I try to update it every once in awhile. I really recommend the “Salsa de aguacate”
        Hope you find something useful, and if so, let me know how things worked out.

      • Piece of advice: If you can, buy the chiles bulk, it is way cheaper, but the chiles are the same. Buy them by weight, instead of packed. One of these years, I’ll bring you the recipe for Enchilada salsa, which is very similar to the tamal salsa roja. (For tamales, we make some with chicken with green salsa, or pork with red salsa, other with mole, etc.)

  3. I am BEYOND excited to try this! In Mexico, there was a taqueria across the street that had an orange one like this. I only ever wanted to go THERE for quesadillas all the time. So yummy. Thank you thank you :)

  4. This sounds wonderful! Do you rehydrate the dried chili’s first, or just throw the dried chili’s in the oil? Or was she using fresh chilis? I can’t wait to try this! I am going to use the Japones because I like spicy things :)

    • Highly recommend using the japones if you like it spicy. The guajillos tend to be mild. Don’t attempt to rehydrate them or anything – you just throw those dry chiles right into the oil the way they are, (no stems though!)

  5. Made this today. 1 oz. japones, 1 oz.juajillo very good. sweat on my chin. It made a ton. about 5 cups. gonna last awhile. Hoping it freezes well. Gracias Tracy

    • Yum! Enjoy it, Scott. I’ve been hoping to learn how to can things so one of these years I can have my pantry stocked with salsa :)

  6. […] 1 2/3 tazas de aceite de canola (“pre-cocinado”) 32 oz de caldo de verduras (marca Swanson) 4 a 6 tazas de MASECA Tamal (Lo que dice “para hacer deliciosos TAMALES”) 1 a 2 cucharaditas de polvo para hornear de doble acción 1 a 2 cucharaditas de sal 1/4 a 1/2 taza de salsa roja (mi receta está aquí) […]

  7. Thanks for posting this! I’ve been on a quest to try and duplicate the salsa at our local taco truck and this looks precisely the same. I’m going to try this and I’ll let you know how it goes :-). I had another customer tell me conspiratorially that he though they also tossed in some spanish peanuts for flavor and thickening (I could have sworn they were using a little Masa in it but they told me they don’t – of course they didn’t tell me what they do use ;-) ). Since hearing that I’ve noticed a lot of mexican salsa recipes do seem to use roasted peanuts in the ‘blend’. After making it I’ll take some and add peanuts to some of it and see how it alters the taste and feel.

      • So I did a quick first go trying to follow your recipe as a start. Came out nicely except the seeds and some of the dried pepper pieces are really chewy… is that what you’d expect? I may try shaking the seeds out and see if it helps. Also, I may not be using the right pepper… this came out completely mild (no heat at all). I’m going to try another batch with some Arbol peppers and see how It does.

      • The seeds in the salsa don’t bother me – I kind of like the texture they provide, and they’re necessary to provide heat, especially when using guajillos which aren’t typically as spicy as the chiles japones. Did you add the optional can of “chiles en adobo”? This affects the flavor and heat greatly. Sometimes I add just a little of it if the salsa needs a little something, (because sometimes you just get some that are spicier and some that are not as spicy.) … If you still have the batch of salsa you made and you want to salvage it, add some chiles en adobo – that’ll give you plenty of heat :)

        As for the seeds, if they bother you, I suppose you could pour the salsa through a sieve to remove them?

        Another tip: After making this salsa many times, both with canned tomatoes and fresh tomatoes, I’ve found that canned tomatoes usually yield a much tastier salsa. Fresh tomatoes tend to water it down and not be as flavorful — So if you used fresh, you may want to try canned to see if that’s where your problem lies.

  8. In a twist, I added 2 serranos and 2 habaneros diced into the pot with the onions. Added Cilantro to the blender as well. Tastes wonderful however was hoping for a more chipotle smoky taste.

    • Albert: Add the canned Chipotle in Adobo Sauce and you will get smoked flavor you are looking for- but I only use 2-3 from can and a bit of the sauce. An entire can with sauce is over kill in my opinion. Also add chicken bouillon 1-2 tsp as this helps after adding water or liquid from seeping if you DO CHOOSE TO SOAK DRIED PEPPERS AS I RECOMMEND!

Note: You are not required to sign in to leave a comment. Please feel free to leave the email and/or website fields blank for an easier commenting experience.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.