Move Over Chimichurri, Uruguayan Salsa Criolla is in the House

by Liz Caskey on September 24, 2009


You know, with all the zesty sauces in South America, how come chimichurri steals all the thunder? Chileans make at least a dozen versions of mean pebres, from spicy-as-hell green chili and cilantro to the garden vegetable variety. Uruguay too has its creole salsas, although its cuisine all too often is overshadowed or confused with its neighbor on the other side of the Río de la Plata, Argentina.

My favorite new salsa is Uruguay’s Salsa Criolla. I am totally obsessed with it. In the course of making lots of recipes for the cookbook, this one won me over hands down. My first memories of this tangy salsa chock full of fresh peppers, tomatoes, and onions was at the Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo. My husband and I had just flown in, were borderline starving, and well, we were looking for a welcoming meat orgy. While waiting for our tasty steaks to fly off the grill, they served this salsa with bread. It was gone before the steaks even got there. We had many repeat versions while in country and it seemed each cook had the ratios a little different–but that one unifying flavor was always there.

What really brings this salsa together is the oregano. Oregano is one of the most underrated and under utilized herbs, both fresh and dried. In the Southern Cone, it is one of the spice pillars along with paprika. I used to snarf at it, like it was somehow inferior to thyme, basil, dill, rosemary or other herbs. Well, I have learned otherwise as I delve deeply into the traditional cooking in these latitudes. Oregano is really intense, especially when dried since it concentrates its essential oils. I have come to love the earthy, herbaceaous taste and it really turns any humble veggie or piece of meat into a divine experience.

Try this salsa with a grilled steak and a bottle of Uruguay’s awesome Tannat. Producers like Pizzorno, Bouza, and Domaine Monte de Luz, are all available now in the US.  

1 large onion

1 1/2 red bell pepper

1 green pepper

3 medium tomatoes

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

3 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Fresh black pepper


Peel and chop the onion in medium dice. Deseed and chop the peppers in medium dice. Core and chop the tomatoes in medium dice (with seeds). 

In a mixing bowl, combine the vegetables with the vinegar, oil, salt, and dried oregano. Season with salt and pepper. 

Let stand for at least 1 hour for flavors to develop. Sauce will last 3-4 days in the frig.

Your steak and your tastebuds are gonna love you for making this!!


Annje September 24, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I am hungry and that just made my mouth water. I’ll have to try it. Does it work as well with fresh oregano?

Adrian September 4, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I just returned from a week in Uruguay and let me tell you that I could have written the paragraph about your arrival to Uruguay and heading for the Mercado del Puerto! I did nearly the exact same thing and was just as enamored with the Salsa Criolla! Thanks for the recipe!

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