Austin360Cooks: Turning to YouTube to learn how to make salsa roja

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A molcajete is used when making a traditional salsa roja. Photo from Janet Kushner.

For a year, Janet Kushner has been teaching the Internet how to make proper Mexican food.

Kushner, who lives in Austin but is originally from Mexico City, started posting short how-to videos on her YouTube channel, Jauja Cocina Mexicana, and since then she’s gained more than 5,000 subscribers who tune in for her lessons in both English and Spanish.

All told, she has more than 60 tutorials uploaded so far, and in each one she covers a dish you might have only tried in a restaurant, such as pipian verde or zucchini blossom soup. Her videos for salsa verde and salsa roja are among her most popular, and she was happy to share a recipe suited for print for our Austin360Cooks column.

To watch her step-by-step video recipes, check out youtube.com/user/jaujacocinamexicana.

Kushner says the perfect salsa uses both a molcajete and tejolote (mortar and pestle) and a food processor, but you can puree the first ingredients into a paste and then pulse the salsa together. But if you have a molcajete, pull it out. Kushner says that it unearths nuances and textures of native flavors by generating ultrasmooth pastes and finely ground powders, unachieved with present-day blenders and food processors.

A molcajete is used when making a traditional salsa roja. Photo from Janet Kushner.

A molcajete is used when making a traditional salsa roja. Photo from Janet Kushner.

Salsa Roja

1 lb. ripe Roma tomatoes
10 sprigs fresh cilantro
2-3 fresh serranos
1 jalapeño
1/2 small white onion (cut in half horizontally so that the root holds the layers together)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and divided
1 heaping tsp. of salt

Remove the stem of the tomatoes with a knife. Wash cilantro and discard the widest part and bottom of each sprig and stem.

Cut onion in half horizontally, as opposed to pole to pole, which will leave the base of the root intact. This allows the onion to remain together during boiling.

Place fresh chilies, two garlic cloves and onion in 4 cups boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes or until the skins burst. Turn heat source off and allow to cool.

In the molcajete, add salt, the cooked garlic cloves and the raw garlic clove and grind to a smooth, fine paste. Remove the stems from the chilies and grind one by one. (For a mild salsa, remove chili seeds and white membranes prior to grinding.)

(If you don’t have a molcajete, you can make this paste in a food processor.)

Cut off the root base of the onion and peel tomatoes, reserving skin. In a food processor, add onion, tomato skins, 1 to 2 tomatoes and the molcajete chili and garlic mixture. Process until pureed.

To finish the salsa, add the rest of the tomatoes and cilantro and process the mixture with several pulses to result in a salsa with texture. Do not puree at this stage. Taste and add salt to your preference and serve. Maybe 2 to 2 1/2 cups.

— Janet Kushner, Jauja Cocina Mexicana


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