Salsa de Chícharo y Tomate (adapted from Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking, 1958)

Salsa de Chícharo y Tomate is one of those recipes I went into having no idea what I was getting into.   I found it in a 1958 cookbook – Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking – written by Elena Zelayeta.  It’s one of a dozen different recipes in a chapter devoted to salsas, and, given the context, I was expecting a mildly spiced salsa verde.   My original intent was to serve this as a dipping sauce with rich pork empanadas, but one taste and I knew I needed to switch gears. Salsa de Chícharo y Tomate is delicious, but it’s not a plug and play “salsa” for dipping chips or pouring into tacos.

If your Spanish is a little rusty like mine is,  salsa translates as sauce and chícharos are green peas.  The literal translation is “sauce of peas and tomatoes”, which sounds more like a soup than a condiment.  The cookbook’s author describes it as follows:

This sauce is a conversation piece as no one can guess what’s in it.  As I remember, it’s a lovely green color, and the flavor is piquant – in spots.  And if you don’t know what I am talking about, just try it.

Elena may be forgiven for misremembering the color – when she wrote this cookbook she had been blind for well over a decade.   The red tomatoes and peas make a reddish brown paste, and regardless of whether you use black olives or green olives it’s not much to look at.   But I recommend you follow her advice and “just try it”.  It may not be pretty, but it’s a versatile salsa for, well, pretty much anything you normally wouldn’t think to top with salsa.

In the original cookbook Zelayeta recommends serving this salsa cold with beef, fish, or tongue.  I can’t vouch for the tongue just yet, but it works well with flank steak in the same way you might use a tangy chimichurri.  But I worked through most of my test batch by putting a tablespoonful on my bagels-and-lox breakfast.  I’d normally top them with red onion and capers; Salsa de Chícharo y Tomate hits a lot of the same notes but stays on the bagel a little bit better.  You can also go all in and just mix it with the cream cheese, about two parts cream cheese per one part salsa.    Enjoy!

Salsa de Chícharo y Tomate (adapted from Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking, 1958)

  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Ready in: 15 min
  • For: 2 cups
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  1. Puree onions, peas and tomatoes in a blender. Add capers, olives, oregano, and peppers and puree until smooth.
  2. Add vinegar, then add olive oil in a thin stream while pulsing the blender until mixture is smooth and uniform.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste as needed (you shouldn't need much). Chill before serving.

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