(Note: this post was originally published on July 3, 2019. It is continually updated with additional photos and examples, so make sure to bookmark it and keep checking back).
The Sweet/Spicy Magic of Fruit Salsa
If you love the combination of sweet and spicy flavors, you've come to the right place. Fruit salsa (for example, using pineapple, mango, peaches, etc.) is a vibrant delight that pairs beautifully with almost any meal. It's perfect for scooping up with chips and for heaping on top of salads, tacos, and any sort of protein. The combination of sweet fruit, a bit of spice, decadent charred red onion, zippy lime juice, and fresh herbs is one you'll want to come back to again and again.
Rather than focusing on a specific fruit salsa recipe, this post a conceptual guide to fruit salsa and how to customize it based on your tastes and on the flavor profile of your meal. I'll walk you through the different components I usually add to my fruit salsa recipes and provide lots of ideas for how to create your own.
You'll see a bunch of examples here to get you started. Don't forget to read the caption below each example to get the details about the ingredients and flavors.
What is Fruit Salsa?
I define fruit salsa as a salsa involving fruits other than tomatoes (although that's just me; you could certainly add tomaotes if you want). This could include tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, or non-tropical fruits like peaches and watermelon. Just like tomato salsa, fruit salsa is generally composed of finely chopped fruit with aromatics such as onions, possibly some heat, possibly some citrus, and some fresh herbs like mint or cilantro.
Ingredients in Fruit Salsa
Fruit salsa is easy to make at home and infinitely customizable. Keep scrolling down for additional details and examples, but in general I consider a fruit salsa recipe to include six components:
Fruit. The star of the show. You can work with whatever fruits you love most. My favorites are pineapple, mango, and peaches since all three of those go so beautifully alongside some spice.
Onions. Onions add some savoriness to balance the sweet fruit. I usually prefer to work with red onions and to grill them first to tame their assertive flavor.
Citrus. A citrusy kick helps your salsa to really pop. Lime juice is delightful, although other citrus can work too. It might not be necessary for very acidic fruits like pineapple.
Heat. Optional but excellent. Heat is a great counterpoint to the sweet fruit. You can use jalapenos, poblanos, other hot peppers, or cayenne.
Herbs. Some fresh herbs give fruit salsa a whole other dimension and make it feel vibrant. Mint and cilantro are my favorite herbs to pair with fruit.
Salt. Just a pinch or two wakes up all the other flavors.
Component #1: Fruit
You can use any sweet, juicy fruit in a fruit salsa recipe. Some of my favorites are mangos, papayas, pineapples, and peaches. I also occasionally use strawberries or watermelon, especially in combination with other fruits.
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. Grilling can also make fruit taste sweeter, especially if it's a bit under-ripe. Remember to oil the grill well, since the sugars from the fruit will caramelize and stick.
Can you combine fruits? Absolutely! 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 ingredients with a common theme (e.g. all tropical fruits, see Example #s 4, 8, and 9) so that the final product feels more coherent.
Component #2: Onions
Salsa almost always contains something from the onion family. I think red onion pairs best with fruit, although I'll use sweet onion in a pinch. The idea of garlic with fruit seems sort of weird (at least to me), so I never use it in fruit salsa, despite the fact that it's a common ingredient in tomato salsa.
I know this is just personal preference, but I find raw onion way too assertive, so I almost always grill it. Grilled red onion is so sweet and flavorful, and the charred/caramelized notes pair beautifully with fruit. Just cut it into rounds, char it on the grill, and dice it up.
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 the flavor.
My favorite trick: grill the onion indoors (in a grill pan), then deglaze it with tequila or rum (see Example #s 4 and 5). Let the alcohol burn off for a few seconds, until all the liquid has evaporated and the sugars have caramelized. The end result is succulent and decadent, and the flavors complement tropical fruit so beautifully.
Component #3: Citrus
I love fruit salsas that are bright and citrusy, so having an acidic pop is key. Lime is a logical choice because it's used so frequently in Mexican and Caribbean food, although there's no reason lemon can't work. It's also fun to experiment with other citrus such as orange (which adds sweetness) and grapefruit (which adds bitterness). Regardless of what you choose, always use fresh-squeezed.
In terms of how much to use, I add a bit of lime juice (half a lime) to most salsas including those involving mangoes, papayas, and peaches. I add more lime juice (perhaps a whole lime) to berry and watermelon salsas, since those fruits tend to be less acidic. I don't generally add it to pineapple salsa because pineapple is so acidic and juicy on its own.
Component #4: Heat and Spice
If you want your fruit salsa recipe to have some heat, you have a lot of choices. One great option is a simple pinch of cayenne. It has such a lovely clean, floral heat that complements fruit so nicely. Plus it's super easy: just add a pinch or two and mix thoroughly.
Peppers of course are great too. Jalapenos add nice heat and additional flavor, especially when grilled or pickled. Grilled or fire-roasted poblanos add less heat but a lovely charred flavor. If you're a heat lover, feel free to use habaneros or other peppers (with caution). Remember that you can always strip out the seeds and ribs of a pepper to tame its heat.
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.
However, sometimes 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, you can let the salsa be a simple, fresh, and sweet counterpoint.
Component #5: Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs add such delightful flavor and fragrance to a salsa, as well as a beautiful pop of color. Generally speaking, cilantro is a great bet because it pairs so well with a variety of Mexican and Caribbean flavors. It goes especially well with a spicy fruit salsa.
Mint can also be a lovely addition. While cilantro has a decidedly Mexican vibe, mint can lend more of a fresh, summery feel. You can use it in tandem with cilantro or just use it by itself; the latter is especially apt if you're working with more of a generally-summery flavor profile rather than a Mexican-inspired or Caribbean-inspired one.
If you're a parsley fan, it can pair nicely with certain fruits and adds some additional freshness. I also sometimes sneak a bit of parsely into a salsa if I'm out of cilantro since they at least have a similar appearance.
Whichever herbs you choose, make sure to chop them very finely using a super-sharp knife to avoid bruising the delicate leaves.
What About Avocado?
If you add avocado, is it technically still a salsa? Perhaps not, but it's delicious. If you're an avocado fan, go for it! See Example #8 below for a delightful, avocado-filled fruit salsa recipe.
If you do choose to add avocado, you'll want to serve the salsa quite soon; otherwise, the avocado will brown. 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 the fruit for a salsa pretty finely. However, I actually prefer to leave bigger pieces of fruit if I'll be adding avocado. That's because avocado doesn't cut well into small pieces and I like to have all the components in the salsa be about the same size.
How to Make Fruit Salsa
One of the reasons I love fruit salsa recipes is that they have so much flavor, yet come together so quickly. Here's how to do it:
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 hot onions with fresh fruit.
Cut the fruit into uniform sizes, dice the onion into smaller pieces than the fruit, and chop the herbs as finely as you can.
Combine the fruit, onion, herbs, spicy elements (if using), citrus juice (if using), and salt, then mix gently. Taste it and adjust as you see fit.
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 the herbs wilt. If you can, let it sit in the fridge while the rest of your meal comes together.
If you want to make a fruit salsa recipe 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. For any 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.
Fruit Salsa Serving Suggestions
There are so many delightful ways you can use your own, signature fruit salsa recipe! Here are some ideas to get you started:
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.
Because the options here are truly endless, I'm curious about what YOU create. Please leave a comment below describing what ingredients you used in your own fruit salsa recipe and what you thought of it. Cheers and happy snacking!
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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