Simple Cooked Tomato Salsa

Mexican Cooked Tomato Salsa, made by simmering puréed fresh tomatoes, jalapeno or serrano chili peppers, garlic, and salt.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

My friend Arturo taught me how to make this simple salsa the other day. He calls it “Salsa Fresca”, which he says is what this salsa is called where he’s from in Mexico.

What we in the states usually call salsa fresca, a chunky salsa with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions and chiles, is something completely different.

Looking for similar recipes in some of Diana Kennedy’s books I find several references to “salsa de jitomate” or simply, “tomato salsa”, and none for salsa fresca. But that’s not surprising. The names for dishes, and even ingredients, can vary widely, depending on where you are in the country.

Fortunately, the salsa is more simple than its name’s etymology.

Likely you’ve had it before, if you’ve ever stepped inside a taqueria. There you usually have a choice of salsas, one smooth, red, and hot, the other made with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, and chiles.

This would be the first—the smooth, red and hot one. It’s great for dipping tortilla chips, or over quesadillas.

Simple Cooked Tomato Salsa Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 18 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 1 1/2 cups


  • 2 medium sized fresh tomatoes, cored and cut in half
  • 1 whole jalapeño chili pepper (or a serrano), stem removed, chopped
  • 5 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil


1 Purée ingredients: Put tomatoes, jalapeño, garlic, salt, and water into a blender. Purée for 20 seconds, until completely liquified.

2 Simmer for 15 minutes: Heat olive oil in a sauce pan on medium high. Pour purée into pan. Bring to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture completely changes color from light red to a much darker red, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Keep refrigerated when not using.

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Showing 4 of 28 Comments

  • Carolyn Rosner

    I plan to try this, with some roasted chiles from my garden, and canned, crushed tomatoes. What is the reasoning behind cooking? Is it to remove the “tinny” taste of the canned tomatoes and blend flavors better? You don’t explain why this salsa is cooked. Thanks!

  • Denny Graham

    This is a fantastic recipe; it’s simple, one doesn’t have to run to store, and extremely tasty. I used the perfect tomatoes and the less than perfect tomatoes, and the salsa is still great. I’ve used one jalapeno with the seeds removed and two jalapenos with seeds, plus a couple Serrano’s. More heat, but still great. And with this recipe, the salsa doesn’t spend much in fridge. Tonight I used about half batch while watching the news. Good stuff!

  • katie

    I’m trying to be creative with my overabundance of cherry tomatoes and be thankful come dreary winter. I’ve made your fresh salsa and just tried this cooked one.
    Does cooking reduce the heat of the pepper? I used serranos from my garden and was surprised that is wasn’t hot at all compared to uncooked versions.
    Thanks for another yummy recipe!

    I don’t think cooking reduces the heat, though I think it disperses it more. I also make pickled jalapenos which are just as hot as the fresh ones. ~Elise

  • Tom Hammer

    Great basic recipe for table salsa, Elise. Between our our garden’s production and the plethora of organic lovelies from the Big Box of Produce (Early Girls and San Marzanos), I had plenty to work with. This is lovely salsa all on its own and a fantastic base to build on. Try adding finely chopped white onions and/or cilantro after cooking. Try it with chipotle instead of jalapeño. Go nuts.

    Thanks for another classic, Elise.

  • Nate

    I like roasted tomatoes, onions and jalapenos in this salsa. If the skins are a little blackened, no problem. If they’re blackened all over, I remove them.

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