Technique Guide: Fruit Salsa Variations

In our house, almost all salsa is fruit salsa.

While I certainly don't have anything against a good tomato or tomatillo salsa, I just don't find them quite as exciting. But fruit salsa? Absolutely! I make it probably at least once a week. It's perfect for scooping up with tortilla chips, plantain chips, or cucumber slices, and for topping salads, tacos, and any sort of protein.

Above: Peach salsa with grilled red onion, lime, a tiny dash of cumin, cilantro, and mint. I especially love peach salsa during the summer, when peaches are in season.

Rather than focusing on a specific fruit salsa, this post is more of a conceptual guide to fruit salsa and how to customize it to your tastes, ingredient availability, and what fruits are in season. And by "fruit salsa", I mean one without tomatoes (although you could certainly add them if you want).

Element #1: Fruit (obviously)
You can use pretty much any sweet, juicy fruit. Some of my favorites are mangoes, papayas, pineapples, and peaches. I also occasionally use strawberries or watermelon, especially in combination with other fruits, and sometimes grapefruit or oranges. I gravitate toward tropical fruits since I think they pair best with other salsa ingredients.

Can you grill the fruit? Totally. I generally prefer not to since I like the fresh feeling of raw fruit, but grilling yields a lovely flavor, especially for pineapples and peaches. Remember to oil your grill!

Can you combine fruits? Absolutely! Go crazy!

 Above: Mango-papaya salsa with tequila-grilled red onion, lime, and cilantro. All of these ingredients are grown in Hawai'i; I live by that saying "If it grows together, it goes together".

Element #2: Onions
Salsa almost always (perhaps by definition?) contains something from the onion family. I think red onion pairs best with fruit, although scallions are also nice. I'll use sweet onion in a pinch, but red is my strong preference. The idea of garlic with fruit seems sort of weird (at least to me), so I never use it in a fruit salsa, despite the fact that it's a common ingredient in a tomato salsa.

Can you grill the onion? I always do. I know this is just personal preference, but I find raw onion way too assertive. Grilled red onion is so sweet and flavorful, and the charred/caramelized notes pair beautifully with fruit. Just cut it into rounds, blast it on the grill, and you're good to go. If you choose to leave the onion raw, I recommend very small pieces.

My favorite trick: grill the onion indoors (in a grill pan), then douse it with tequila. Let the tequila burn off for a few seconds, and you have yourself some super-flavorful onions.

Above: Strawberry salsa with tequila-grilled red onion, lime, and cilantro. Check out the delicate char on those gorgeous (tequila doused) onion rounds!

Element #3: Acid
I love salsas that are bright and citrusy, so having an acidic pop is key. Lime is the logical choice in my mind (Mexican food! Caribbean food!), although there's no reason lemon can't work.

I add a bit of lime juice to most salsas including those involving mangoes, papayas, and peaches. I add more lime juice to berry salsas, since berries tend to have less of their own juice. I don't generally add it to salsas involving pineapples or other citrus fruits, since those things are all so acidic and juicy on their own.

 Well this can only lead somewhere good. All my favorite ingredients, fresh from the organic farm on Kaua'i!

Element #4: Heat and Spice
If you want your salsa to have some heat, my personal preference is a bit of cayenne. It has such a lovely clean, floral heat that complements the fruit so nicely. Jalapenos also work well, especially when grilled or pickled in lime juice. Occasionally I'll use a grilled poblano.

The other thing I sometimes add to fruit salsas is cumin. It adds a nice depth of flavor, while still allowing the salsa to be a cooling element rather than a spicy element. Just a little sprinkle goes a long way.

A lot of times, I don't add any spice at all. Depending on your meal, it can be refreshing to have the fruit salsa be just sweet and citrusy. For example, if you make a spicy taco filling or a spice-rubbed protein, let the salsa be a simple, fresh, and sweet counterpoint.

Don't forget the salt! It will wake up all the other flavors.

Above: Pineapple-watermelon salsa with tequila-grilled red onion, cayenne, cilantro, and mint. For some reason, I always pair mint with watermelon.

Element #5: Herbs
Generally speaking, cilantro is my go-to since it pairs so well with a variety of Mexican and Caribbean flavors. I usually just use cilantro when I'm working with mangoes and papayas.

Mint can also be a lovely addition. For whatever reason, I love mint with peaches, berries, and watermelon, so I often use a 50/50 combination of cilantro and mint for those fruits. Pineapple is a gray area; sometimes I like it with mint, other times I stick with just cilantro.

In any case, make sure to chop your herbs very finely. Using a super-sharp knife will avoid bruising the delicate leaves.

Above: This one got a little bit carried away! It's mango, papaya, AND pineapple, with grilled red onion and lots of cilantro.

Element #6: Avocado?
If you add avocado, is it technically still a salsa? Probably not, but it's delicious. If you're an avocado fan, go for it!

Above: Peach-avocado "salsa" with grilled red onion, lime, cilantro, and mint.

Method
One of the reasons I love fruit salsas is that they have so much flavor, yet come together so quickly. If you're going to grill any of the elements, do that first and allow them to cool completely (I often grill my onions the day before, then store them in a sealed container so that they gently pickle in their own juices). Chop up your fruit into uniform sizes, chop the onion into smaller pieces than the fruit, and chop the herbs as finely as you can. Then combine!

Something magical happens to salsa when you let it sit for a little while. For fruit salsa, that magical duration seems to be about an hour. It's enough time to meld all the flavors and let the citrus juices soak into the onion, but it's not so long that your herbs wilt. Let it sit in the fridge covered while the rest of your meal comes together.

 Don't forget the tortilla chips!

I hope this fruit salsa guide will bring some excitement to your cook-outs, tacos, picnics, Superbowl parties, and any occasion where an interesting salsa will be welcome. Enjoy!

Please share your creation so I can see how you've interpreted the concept! Tag "The Rogue Brussel Sprout" on Facebook or hashtag #theroguebrusselsprout on Instagram.

Looking for another way to bring fruit to the dinner table during the summer? Check out this centerpiece Kaua'i Salad, which would be such a lovely follow-up to a chips and fruit salsa appetizer.

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