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!
- 1 white onion (finely chopped)
- 1 cup cooked peas
- 3 tomatoes (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp capers
- 12 black olives (or green olives with pimiento)
- ½ tsp oregano (Mexican variety, if available)
- 3 pickled banana wax peppers (such as Mezzetta Brand)
- 3 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Puree onions, peas and tomatoes in a blender. Add capers, olives, oregano, and peppers and puree until smooth.
- Add vinegar, then add olive oil in a thin stream while pulsing the blender until mixture is smooth and uniform.
- Add salt and pepper to taste as needed (you shouldn't need much). Chill before serving.