Try This Quick Appetizer Recipe: 20-Minute Smoky Tomato Salsa

Inviting some pals over to hang out can quickly turn stressful when you realize they’re going to expect some food. Before you reach for your phone to order delivery, take a few deep breaths. Homemade eats don’t have to be difficult. With original recipes from our Everyday Appetizers series, you can pull off showstopping starters without losing your cool. 

We might go to our favorite Mexican restaurants with dreams of tacos or tamales, yet we’re usually content with nothing more than chips and salsa. It’s kind of a waste to go out for such a quick appetizer, especially if it means standing around for an hour before getting seated. Next time, skip the wait by whipping up this flavor-packed salsa at home.

About this recipe

smoky tomato salsa with tortilla chips is a quick appetizer

Smoky tomato salsa and tortilla chips | Christine Skopec/Culture Cheat Sheet

A lot of folks go for pico de gallo or other raw salsas to keep food prep speedy when cooking at home. This might be a great approach with perfect produce, but it’s hard to find decent tomatoes any time other than late summer. We wanted a salsa that would taste consistently delicious throughout all 12 months, so a cooked version was the clear answer. To keep it as quick as possible, we puréed everything in the food processor. This two-step method means you’ll get consistently delicious results in no more than 20 minutes.

To develop the most flavor in the shortest amount of time, we went and broiled the tomatoes and garlic instead of baking. Because it goes so fast, you’ll need to keep an eye on things and have a pair of tongs at the ready for flipping. You especially want to keep an eye on the garlic. Leaving the skins on helps protect the cloves, but you can still end up with burnt specimens if you aren’t careful. Once the garlic has spotty black marks all over, it’s time to evacuate. The tomatoes may still need a few minutes, depending on how big they are.

If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor grill and a beautiful day to work with, you can char the tomatoes and garlic outside. Either go for a grill basket or add a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the grates, then set the veg on top. Admittedly, this will take longer than 20 minutes when you account for preheating time.

Once the tomatoes and garlic are nicely charred, let everything cool down slightly. From here, things go really fast. You just add the whole tomatoes (peel and all) to the food processor along with the garlic, salt, a squeeze of lime, and some canned chipotles in adobo. These chiles are the real secret to giving the salsa a huge dose of flavor. With both smoked jalapeños and a vinegar-based sauce, it’s a two-for-one ingredient. If you have trouble sourcing this product, you can get close by using a mix of smoked paprika and some cayenne. You may also want to bump up the lime juice a bit.

Give the mixture a whirl, add the cilantro, then pulse a few times to make sure everything’s combined. This salsa is delicious both warm and cold, so feel free to serve it right away with a heaping pile of tortilla chips. Now all you need is a refreshing cocktail or beer. We’re partial to Mexican brews given the food, but any Vienna lager will be perfectly welcome.

Smoky Tomato Salsa

close-up of a tortilla chip dipped into smoky tomato salsa

Tortilla chip scooping smoky tomato salsa | Christine Skopec/Culture Cheat Sheet

This salsa makes 8 appetizer portions, but when was the last time you ate just an appetizer portion of salsa? It’s easy to scale up, so double the recipe if you’re hosting a crowd.


  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • 3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 3 chipotles in adobo, chopped, plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • Tortilla chips

Directions: Preheat broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place tomatoes and garlic cloves on top. Broil tomatoes and garlic until garlic skins are evenly darkened and tomato skins blister and char, flipping halfway through, about 12 to 15 minutes. If garlic darkens faster than tomatoes, remove partway through to avoid burning. Let cool slightly.

Peel garlic cloves and coarsely chop. Add to food processor along with whole, unpeeled tomatoes, chipotles, adobo sauce, and lime juice. Season generously with salt and pulse into a coarse purée. Add cilantro and pulse to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with tortilla chips.

See you back here next week.

Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec

More from Culture Cheat Sheet: