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What Is Salsa Criolla?

By P.M. Willers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Salsa criolla is a South American side dish and condiment that is very commonly served with grilled meats. The name salsa criolla is a variation on the word creole, which in broad terms refers to the mixture of ethnic influences seen in much of Latin America and the Caribbean. Salsa criolla combines European, African, and Amerindian food culture, the variety of which may be seen within the unique ingredients of different recipes. Recipes have evolved by taking European cooking traditions and applying them to locally available ingredients.

Typically, red onions are used as a base, though other varieties are sometimes used. The flavor of onions has a tendency to overpower other ingredients in a dish, especially when they are prominently featured. To prevent this from happening, the onions are always soaked in water for a period of five to ten minutes. The soaking period rinses off the pungent bite that is characteristic of raw onions and allows the flavors of the other ingredients to come through.

In addition to salsa criolla's onion base, the dish also contains chili peppers, cilantro, and lime juice. Typically, vinegar, salt, and pepper are also added to the mix. There are many variations and uses for salsa criolla. In some varieties, beets, boiled potatoes, and avocados are used. If made with boiled potatoes, the more filling dish is served as a side.

When served as a condiment, the ingredients vary based upon what it accompanies. Aji yellow peppers are used in spicier varieties, and in areas where they are unavailable, jalapenos are substituted. When not used as a side to grilled meats, the mixture is served on toast as a snack.

Sometimes known as sarza criolla, the dish is most commonly identified as Peruvian. In Peru, the onions are sliced into thin half moon shapes. All other ingredients are finely minced so that the flavors of every ingredient can be tasted in every bite. With this in mind, often the dish is set aside to rest before being served.

The people of Argentina, known as criollos, are of Spanish descent. Their food is known as criolla food. This name was given to relate the Spanish influence on Argentinian food, and salsa criolla makes an important "comida criolla" condiment. Argentinian salsa criolla uses sunflower oil in addition to the other ingredients. The oil calms the tangy flavor found in vinegar heavy varieties, but is preferred by those who do not want its heavy flavor to dominate.

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