Peruvian Salsa Criolla

An ultra-simple salad/salsa/side dish, Peruvian Salsa Criolla (aka red onion salsa) requires only a few ingredients, takes a few minutes of active prep time, and is a perfect accompaniment to many of your favorite Peruvian dishes! The addition of tomatoes makes this a versatile and substantial side with your Peruvian or Latin main dishes!

Red onion, tomato, lime juice, cilantro in a clear glass bowl with cutting board and limes in the background.

Salsa Criolla probably is the most important and most popular side dish / sauce in Peru. Prepared with red onions, ají amarillo, the juice of Peruvian limes and some freshly chopped coriander or parsley, Salsa Criolla accompanies numerous typical local dishes and just has to be on the table when enjoying a great Peruvian meal.

Lima Easy

🍅 What is “Salsa Criolla?”

Our first experience with Salsa Criolla was the Creole Salad at Puka Rumi in Ollantaytambo, Cuzco, Peru. This simple red onion salad/salsa always includes red onions, and the other ingredients will vary. Rarely is it seen with tomatoes, but the Puka Rumi version included them, and we loved it!

According to Lima Easy, Salsa Criolla is “probably is the most important and most popular side dish/salsa in Peru. Prepared with red onions, ají amarillo, the juice of Peruvian limes and some freshly chopped coriander or parsley, Salsa Criolla accompanies numerous typical local dishes and just has to be on the table when enjoying a great Peruvian meal.”

My salsa criolla is Peruvian-style. Salsa criolla is often associated with Peruvian cuisine, but also found in CubanPuerto RicanNicaraguanUruguayan, and Argentinian cuisine.

📋 Ingredients Notes

Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.

  • red onions – Peruvians use red onion, and I’m not one to argue. I love them! Add very thin-sliced red onion to an ice water and salt bath for 30 minutes if you have time. The soak removes some of the “edge” or “bite” of the onion.
  • ají peppers – Fresh ají limo, amarillo, or rocoto (hot!) are authentic choices, but we can’t reliably get them in the US. I find fruity, but spicy Fresno chiles make a good substitute. I have on occasion used a jalapeño or serrano. I have also been known to add a spoonful of ají amarillo paste or a very finely minced frozen and thawed ají limo pepper.
  • tomatoes – Use the best tomatoes you can find. As I explained earlier, I had salsa criolla with tomatoes in Ollantaytambo, and I always add them. They are, however, optional.
  • limes
  • fresh cilantro
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper

🔪 Step by Step Instructions

A colander of thinly-sliced red onions on a red cloth for my red onion salsa.
  • My Peruvian Salsa Criolla starts with very thinly-sliced red onions soaked in ice water with salt for 30 minutes. Drain them and give them a good rinse before adding!
A cutting board with ingredients for salsa criolla - limes, cilantro, and owls with red onion, tomato, and ají amarillo chile.
  • The remaining ingredients prepped to go into the salad bowl… Squeeze the limes, finely mince the ají amarillo, add the prepared red onion, thin-sliced tomatoes, chopped cilantro. Stir to combine.
A bird's eye view of Peruvian Red Onion and Tomato Salad in a glass bowl. This vegan salad is quick, simple, and gluten free.

💭 Tips

Don’t limit salsa criolla to Peruvian dishes. It’s great on tacos, burgers, and even eggs!

What kind of peppers should I use?

On photo day, I had some frozen whole ají limo, and they were fine. Of course fresh is always preferable. Ají amarillo is my favorite, but Fresno chile, jalapeño, or even red bell pepper will work! If you find rocoto or manzano peppers, and are brave (they’re hot!), you can use them. I find Fresno chile gets closest to the sweet heat of ají amarillo.

How long will the salsa criolla last?

Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, it will be good for about 3 days. I actually like it the next day even better because the flavors mellow and marry.

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Prep Bowls
Citrus Squeezer
Wusthof Santoku Knife

Is your mouth watering yet? MINE IS. Having just returned from a month in Peru, I’m experiencing Peruvian food cravings… My kitchen is calling!

Signature in red and green with chiles and limes.

Peruvian Red Onion and Tomato Salad bird's eye view with fresh cilantro spring.

Peruvian Salsa Criolla

An ultra-simple salad/salsa/side dish, Peruvian Red Onion Tomato Salad requires only a few ingredients, takes a few minutes of active prep time, and is a perfect accompaniment to many of your favorite dishes!
4.88 from 8 votes

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Prep Time 15 minutes
Soak Onions 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Side Dishes
Cuisine Peruvian
Servings 4 cups
Calories 31 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 red onions - very thinly sliced
  • 1 to 2 ají peppers - very thinly sliced (see notes)
  • 8 ounces tiny tomatoes - sliced in half lengthwise
  • 3 to 4 limes - juiced
  • 1 cup cilantro - chopped
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Instructions

  • Generously salt the onions, add a handful of ice cubes, and cover with water. Allow them to soak for 15-30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly, and return to the bowl.
  • While the onions soak, slice peppers and the tomatoes.
  • Squeeze the limes.
  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and season with salt and pepper.

Notes

I use ají limo because I can get a bag of these colorful peppers frozen at my local Latin market. They're about as hot as a jalapeno. Ají  amarillo would be an excellent choice – especially if you can get them fresh. You can substitute jalapeno or Fresno chiles. Add them to taste.

Nutrition

Calories: 31kcal

NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and/or star rating! Email us with any questions: tamara@beyondmeresustenance.com

🌶 Dishes to Pair with Salsa Criolla

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9 Comments

  1. Delicious and so easy to do it, my boyfriend add this “salsa criolla” to his favorite meat sandwich, thank you for sharing great recipes!!

    1. Thank you for your feedback… I was in Cusco and spoke directly with the chef about how to make this salsa recipe. It was on the menu as “salsa criolla.” “Salsa” translates to “sauce.” I have had many kinds of Peruvian salsas, and I make many of them. Here is a resource I often refer to: https://perudelights.com/?s=salsa. Perhaps you have a different frame of reference? I have traveled extensively in Peru. We hang out with an Incan specialist and his Peruvian wife. They have always been fine with the title and enjoyed the salsa. If you have a source to back up your accusation, I will consider changing the title. Otherwise, I will stand by the title.

        1. Haha! Thank you for your feedback Janice! I was so irritated by her accusation. Sarsa is a salad, and I have a recipe for my version on my blog. Two weeks from today, we’re headed back to the Peruvian Andes for our 5th month-long studies abroad trip with UTRGV college students. Bringing Peruvian flavors to people outside the country is my passion. I need a thicker skin when I get criticism.