Technique Guide: Fruit Salsa Variations

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(Note: this post was originally published on July 3, 2019, although many photos have been added subsequently. The date above reflects migration to the new platform.)

The Magic of Fruit Salsa

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 during the summer and even more frequently while we're on Kaua'i. It's perfect for scooping up with tortilla chips, plantain chips, or cucumber slices, and for topping salads, tacos, and any sort of protein.

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). I'll walk you through the different components I usually add to my fruit salsas and provide lots of ideas for customization.

You'll see a bunch of examples scattered throughout this post. I hope they'll provide lots of inspiration! Don't forget to read the caption below each example if you want the details about ingredients and flavors.

Ready for a summery salsa party??

Example #1: Sometimes more is more! This fruit salsa flight is pineapple (left), papaya (top), and mango (right). We enjoyed this flight for date-night one summer Saturday, alongside some naturally-colored blue daiquiries and lots of plantain chips for dipping. Also see Example #8 for these three tropical fruits combined into one salsa.

Component #1: Fruit

You can use pretty much any sweet, juicy fruit in a fruit salsa. 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? Yes! 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 well, since the sugars from the fruit will caramelize and stick.

Can you combine fruits? Absolutely! Go crazy! You'll see that many of the examples shown in this post use multiple kinds of fruit together. When I combine fruits, I try to pick fruits with a common theme (e.g. tropical fruits, see Example #s 3 and 8) so that the final product feels more coherent.

Example #2: 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! This salsa is dynamite alongside some southern-inspired fare, like mint juleps and grilled corn on the cob.

Component #2: Onions

Salsa almost always (perhaps by definition?) contains something from the onion family. I think red onion pairs best with fruit. 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 cutting it into very small pieces. You can also soak slices of red onion in ice water for 5-10 minutes, which can help mellow its flavor. Just beware of creating flavors that are too assertive and could overwhelm the rest of your salsa (or your meal as a whole!).

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 (see Example #s 3 and 4 for proof). Please give this a try if you're a tequila lover! The end result is so beautiful and succulent and decadent, and the flavors complement tropical fruit so beautifully. It works great with rum too!

Example #3: 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".

Component #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 (see Example #4), 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.

It's also fun to experiment with other citrus fruits here. I've made many salsas with orange juice or grapefruit juice, which add nice sweetness and bitterness, respectively. There's no right or wrong answer here, so use whatever flavors you love.

Regardless of what you choose to use, please always use fresh-squeezed! The flavors in a fruit salsa are relatively simple, and the citrus plays a starring role. Yucky store-bought bottled lime juice will really tank your salsa.

Example #4: Strawberry salsa with tequila-grilled red onion, lime, and cilantro. Check out the delicate char on those gorgeous (tequila doused) onion rounds!

Component #4: Heat and Spice

If you want your salsa to have some heat, you have a lot of choices. My personal preference is a pinch of cayenne. It has such a lovely clean, floral heat that complements the fruit so nicely. Plus it's super easy- just add a dash, mix, and devour. There's no cutting or cooking involved.

Peppers of course are great too. Jalapenos add nice heat and additional flavor, especially when grilled or pickled in lime juice. Occasionally I'll use a grilled poblano, which adds less heat but lovely charred flavor. Personally speaking, I don't like my salsa to be mega-hot, so I don't generally work with other peppers in salsa. But if you're a major heat lover, feel free to use habaneros (with caution!).

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.

Example #5: Mango-strawberry salsa with grilled red onion, lime, cayenne, cilantro, and mint. So fresh and summery!

Component #5: Herbs

Fresh herbs add such delightful flavor and fragrance to a salsa, as well as a beautiful pop of color. I almost always add some finely-chopped fresh herbs whenever I have them on-hand. They make the salsa feel so vibrant and exciting!

Generally speaking, cilantro is my go-to since it pairs so well with a variety of Mexican and Caribbean flavors. I usually use just cilantro when I'm working with mangoes and papayas (see Example #s 3 and 8).

Mint can also be a lovely addition. For whatever reason, I love mint with peaches, berries, and watermelon, so I often use it (or 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. See Example #s 5 and 6 for that 50/50 mix, which is so fresh and interesting.

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

Example #6: Pineapple-watermelon salsa with grilled red onion, cayenne, cilantro, and mint. For some reason, I always pair mint with watermelon. I think it's something about watermelon's southern vibe??

Component #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! See Example #7 for a delightful, avocado-filled treat.

If you do choose to add avocado, you'll want to serve the salsa quite soon; otherwise, the avocado will get mushy and could turn brown, depending on your acidity level. If you'll be taking a fruit salsa on a picnic, bringing it to a BBQ where it will sit out, or in general will have to delay eating it, I'd leave the avocado out.

One other tip. Usually, I cut up fruit for a salsa pretty finely. But I actually prefer to leave bigger pieces of fruit if I'll be adding avocado, since avocado doesn't cut up well into small pieces (= mess) and I like to have all the components in the salsa to be about the same size. See Example #s 6 and 7, above and below, to illustrate this point; one has small watermelon pieces, the other large, in order to match the other ingredients.

Example #7: A super-summery watermelon and avocado salsa with lime juice and fresh mint. Sometimes, if I'm adding avocado, I omit the onions to keep things from getting too complicated.

Method

One of the reasons I love fruit salsas is that they have so much flavor, yet come together so quickly. Here's how to do it:

  1. 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; it saves time on the day of, and the results are delicious. Don't try to mix in hot onions with fresh fruit; the warmer temperatures will make the fruit get mushy.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. Devour!!

Make-Ahead Tips

If you want to make your fruit salsa ahead of time, you have a couple options. As mentioned above, you can easily mix everything together an hour or two in advance and let it sit in the fridge. Farther ahead than that, I'd suggest keeping the various items (chopped fruit, grilled onion) in separate containers and combining them when you're ready to eat; that will work great up to a whole day in advance.

Example #8: This one got a little bit carried away! It's mango, papaya, AND pineapple, with grilled red onion and lots of cilantro. This combination had a super-tropical vibe. Also see Example #1 for these three fruits in three separate salsas.

Serving Suggestions

This is sort of a trick heading, since clearly fruit salsa belongs in or on EVERYTHING in our house. But in general, I find myself most gravitating toward fruit salsa when I'm working with summery or tropical flavors.

Fruit salsa can serve as a topping for all sorts of fun creations. Heap it on top of grilled tofu (or whatever protein you love!) or on top of grilled veggies like zucchini.

Fruit salsa is also of course a top-notch chip dip. I adore it alongside salty, crunchy tortilla chips (as evidenced in Example #s 3, 6, 8, and 9). Plantain chips are a dream, especially if you're going for a tropical vibe; see Example #1! I also love it alongside cucumber slices (see Example #s 2, 5, and 7) for a fresher, lighter feel.

Got leftovers? Awesome! I love extra fruit salsa in a salad or burrito bowl the next day. Tossing in a few spoonfuls of fruit salsa with kale or romaine can serve as the dressing for the salad.

Example #9: Why stop at just one?? Here, I've paired a mango-strawberry salsa (upper left, similar to the one shown in Example #5) with a grilled red pepper and corn salsa (bottom right). Pairing a sweeter salsa with a more savory one can bring out the best flavors in both.

Closing Thoughts

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. I feel like fruit salsa is one of my "signature" dishes; it epitomizes the way I like to cook, makes use of all my favorite flavors and ingredients, has great color, and fits right in with my interest in Mexican and Tropical cuisines. Plus it's something I make quite frequently, so I think people have learned to expect it when they come to our house!

Example #10: Got leftovers?? I love to make burrito bowls the day after we host a deck party! Here, leftover mango salsa plays a starring role in a tropical burrito bowl. It's not quite as fresh and vibrant the next day, but the flavors actually get better as the salsa sits!

Share It!

It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.

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No-Cook Rainbow Black Bean Salad

Technique Guide: Fruit Salsa Variations

Fruit salsas, with their bright colors, fruity flavors, and fun ingredients, are made for summer. This guide tells you everything you need to know in order to make every fruit salsa imaginable.

Author:
Lee

Ingredients

Instructions

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