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Beat The Winter Diet Blahs With Easy-To-Make, Dazzling Salsas

An ancho chile (top), a guajillo chile (middle) and a d’arbol chile. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky

An ancho chile (top), a guajillo chile (middle) and a d’arbol chile. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky

Say hello to winter salsas that warm both tummy and spirit.

Thanks to weeks of holiday stuffing, little is more welcoming during the January blahs than bright dishes to guide you through bland diet foods. Yep, you know what I mean. Almost-fat-free proteins read like a who’s who of boring: the dreaded boneless, skinless chicken breast, flavorless fish fillets and soulless tofu — to say nothing of kale everything — are prime examples of depression triggers for our sins of holiday indulgence. Tasteless is one thing, but lovingly prepared, insipid homemade food is intolerable!

You can warm up from inside out with these easy-to-make salsas that bedazzle almost any low-cal dish. Dried chiles are available year round and aren’t so spicy as to cause a burn, but are definitely hot enough to ignite a grin — a wild, wacky grin — as your mouth does the Macarena.

Winter Pear Table Salsa

Makes about 2 cups


2 dried guajillo chiles

2 dried ancho chiles

1 dried d’arbol chile

3 (8-ounce) firm but ripe pears

¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice from Mexican (aka Key) limes, if possible

1 medium (3 inches) white onion, coarsely chopped

½ cup chopped cilantro

2 teaspoons sugar

Sea or kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Using scissors, cut the guajillo and ancho chile stem ends off along with the seed clumps. Cut the chiles vertically and open flat. With a spoon, scrape out the seeds and veins.

2. Bring a small saucepan of water with the guajillo and ancho chiles to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat.

3. Stem and seed the d’arbol chile and add it to the hot water. Let the chiles reconstitute and soften at least 20 minutes or up to a few hours.

4. Drain the chiles and put them in a blender jar. Add just enough fresh water to make blending possible. Purée until smooth. Remove about a third of the chile mixture and reserve in a small dish.

5. Peel, core and chop the pears into coarse chunks. Put them in the blender with the chiles. Pour in the lime juice. Blend 10 seconds. Add the onion and blend again. Finally add the cilantro, sugar, salt and pepper and pulse to mix. Taste. If you want the salsa to be spicier, pulse in some or all of the remaining chile purée; otherwise, discard it.

Toasted Pumpkin Seed and Sesame Seed Table Salsa

Makes about 2 cups


1 large (about 4 inches) white onion

8 cloves garlic

2 plum tomatoes

2 small, dried d’arbol chiles

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ cup sesame seeds

½ teaspoon sea or kosher salt

½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (McCormick brand is good)


1. Heat a griddle or heavy skillet to medium-hot.

2. Cut the unpeeled onion lengthwise through the root and stem ends into 8 wedges. With the skin on, place on an ungreased griddle to toast. Put the whole, unpeeled garlic cloves and the whole tomatoes on the griddle to toast until black spots appear all over each. Cool enough to handle and peel the onion and garlic.

3. Core the tomatoes and cut off the onion and garlic root ends. Put in a blender jar or food processor, adding only enough water to make blending possible, and blend about 10 seconds.

4. Toast the chiles for about 10 seconds on each side, just until their color changes. Stem and crumble one of the chiles into the blender (with seeds) and blend again.

5. Heat a small, ungreased skillet to medium-hot. Dump in the pumpkin seeds and stir until they puff, turn golden and jump around in the pan, about 4 minutes. Pour into the blender. In the same skillet, quickly toast the sesame seeds until they turn medium golden brown. Add to the blender.

6. Add the salt and oregano to the blender jar. Blend, adding water only if necessary. The goal is a chunky, rustic table salsa. Taste. Adjust the seasonings if necessary. Now is the time to crumble the other chile into the blender if you want more spice and blend to mix.

Top photo: An ancho chile (top), a guajillo chile (middle) and a d’arbol chile. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky

Zester Daily contributor Nancy Zaslavsky is an author, cooking teacher and culinary tour leader specializing in the foods of Mexico. She wrote the James Beard Award-nominated "A Cook's Tour of Mexico" and "Meatless Mexican Home Cooking." Motivated by ongoing research into the cultural and culinary history of Mexico, she is the vice president and program chair of the Culinary Historians of Southern California. Based in Los Angeles, she is also a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and International Slow Food Movement.


  • EJC 1·22·14

    Two excellent recipes to add much needed ‘zing’ to all we eat.

  • Kevin 1·22·14

    This is just what I need to warm me up–it’s freezing here! 🙂

  • kathy solomon 1·22·14

    These both sound delicious. i can’t wait to try them. thanks so much for posting.

  • WARREN 1·22·14

    These salsa recipes definitely will add some “giddy up” to several chicken and fish dishes. I look forward to trying them soon. Thanks Nancy!

  • RM 1·22·14

    Nancy’s recipes always present good ingredients in interesting ways.

  • Grace 1·22·14

    Nancy, these look like the perfect compliment to any meat or seafood dish. Think I’ll prepare and bring the pear salsa to our girls dinner party this Sunday. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mike 1·23·14

    An interesting way to add some kick to dinner. Can’t wait to try it.

  • beth 1·23·14

    Yum! Not sure which one to try first.

  • Barbara Hansen 1·23·14

    Very clever story, and the recipes sound great, especially the pumpkin seed salsa. I love those seeds, they are so toasty and good.

  • Paul H 1·24·14

    What tasty and easy options for putting a new spin and flavor on chicken and fish. Just what I needed for the new year!

  • Sue 1·25·14

    I need to try these recipes. My chicken dishes need an overhaul and the salsa should be just what I need to spice them up. Thank you.

  • Steve Kinchen 1·27·14

    These both look delicious. And they’re unique and interesting. Also very nice qualities for after the holidays. I’m usually both stuffed and interested in something new and exciting. Thanks, Nancy!

  • Patricia 1·28·14

    Perfecto! for our sub-zero temps…

  • Marcia 1·28·14

    Nancy is a talented cook! Look forward to trying…