Successful Mistakes

Some of the best food I have ever made has been because of a mistake. That's right. A mistake.

Perhaps I didn't have the right ingredient and substituted something similar or didn't have enough of this and used that instead. Whatever happened was no coincidence as it turned out to be suprisingly better than the original recipe.

I recently wrote an article for a local magazine about salsas. It was tons of fun to research this savory subject as I got to go to my favorite Mexican restaurants in the Alamo City and talk up the managers and chefs, many whom I already knew but know them much better now. And the bonus was that I got a few fabulous salsa recipes along the way.

Though I thought I made a good salsa, I learned a few tricks and techniques to making a terrific salsa during this adventure and even got to meet Iliana de la Vega, Latin Cuisine Specialist at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio and chef/owner of Austin's most prolific and well-supported Mexican food truck, el naranjo. (Hailing from Oaxaca, this lady can cook and I cannot wait to sample her hometown culinary treasures this side of the border...)

So like any good journalist, I tested the salsa recipes I received along the way. The first salsa I made was a modified version of the recipe I was given by one of the city's top-rated and beloved Mexican hot spots.

I thought 10 serrano peppers were a tad too many, even for a chilanga like me (someone from Mexico City, DF), and the grocery store I went to did not have the exact chiles the recipe called for, but they did have dried cascabels and ancho peppers, so I bought those instead.

The salsa ended up being a major hit. I took it to a Christmas party and it disappeared in minutes with the guests asking me all about the salsa, how I made it and if I brought more.

So when David and I decided to start 2011 off with some spice, I thought I would make the salsa again but this time I did not veer from the recipe's instructions and ingredients. And just as I thought, it's hot and we prefer the reformatted version.

That's what happens when you tweak, play with and modify a recipesometimes it's a flop and other times it's even better than the original recipe. So, go ahead and try making a little change to a recipe. You may be suprised at the results!

Buen provecho!

Heather's Salsa
The Cowgirl Gourmet (

Print recipe

This salsa is a version I came up with when I didn't have all the ingredients for a recipe. And it turned out way better than we thought possible. It's full of flavor, but not overly spicy. ¡Que sabroso!

The secret to this salsa is that it uses three different cooking processes which gives an incredible depth of flavor. Boiling, sauteeing and dry roasting. It's worth the effort. I promise. You'll never buy salsa again and you'll impress even the most accomplished cook with your homemade salsa.

1 lb. tomatillos (this will be about 10-12 tomatillos and if they weigh 1.25 lbs. that is perfectly fine)
5 serrano peppers
Approximately 1.5 oz. dried cascabel chiles, about 6
Approximately 1.5 oz. dried ancho chiles, about 5
2 Tablespooons vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic
10 oz. chopped onion
Kosher salt to taste

Remove the husks of the tomatillos. They will have a tacky feel to them, so rinse them well along with the serrano peppers.

A dehusked tomatillo

In a medium sauce pan, cover the tomatillos and serranos with water and bring to a boil. Cook about 10 minutes or until everything softens. As the tomatillos cook, the color will change to a dull, darker green. Do not let the tomatillos split. 

Cooked tomatillos and serranos

When they are cooked, drain the water and place the tomatillos and serranos (be sure and remove the stems of the serranos) in a blender.

In a saute pan, add 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil and saute the chopped onions and garlic cloves until onions are translucent. When done, set aside.

On a comal or cast iron skillet, place over medium-high heat and toast the dried chiles approximately 1 minute on each side. Be sure and watch the chiles carefully as you do not want them to burn.
Ancho chiles

Cascabel chiles

When they are ready, you will smell them. Immediately pull them off the fire and set aside. When they cool, remove the stems, but leave the seeds, although some seeds will invariably fall out.

Stems and seeds. To the dried chiles and serranos, of course.

To the blender, add the onions and garlic and any oil that is left in the pan. Toss in the dried chiles, put on the lid and puree. You may need to stir it up a bit and then continue pureeing.  


When it's all blended, taste for seasoning and add salt. Blend and then taste again, adding more salt if necessary.

This salsa will keep up to two weeks in the fridge.
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