Peruvian Salsa Criolla

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Salsa criolla is a Peruvian condiment made with thinly sliced red onions, tomatoes, and peppers that are soaked in lime juice until they begin to pickle. It's full of flavor and tastes good on everything from grilled meats to rice to sandwiches.

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The first time I had Salsa Criolla was at a local Peruvian restaurant and I immediately fell in love with the bright flavors and slightly pickled red onions, peppers, and tomatoes. It's tangy, a bit spicy, and so so good. Believe me, you want this to put on everything. 

Lately, I have been on the hunt for simple ways to add flavor to simple meals. Eating at home means more cooking and more leftovers, so sometimes it's important to have something fun to switch up the flavors. This Peruvian salsa criolla is just that. Seeing a jar, ready to go in the fridge, means I can immediately transform my leftovers into something delicious. 

If salsa criolla is a new recipe for you, think about it a more complex version of Mexican pickled red onions. If you have never tried any pickled onions, make these immediately.

Pickling the onions in the lime juice brings out their sweetness and makes them less harsh. It's a milder onion flavor enhanced by lime juice. It's delicious and adds immediate flavor to everything. 

Salsa criolla with pickled red onions, chopped tomatoes, lime juice, peppers, and cilantro in a glass jar.

What is salsa criolla?

Salsa criolla is a Peruvian salsa and condiment that is served with anything from rice dishes to sandwiches and grilled meats. It is typically made with thinly sliced red onions, aji Amarillo, lime juice, and cilantro. Tomatoes are optional, but I love the flavor it adds.  It adds brightness, tang, and a touch of spice to dishes that is so so good.

Now let's talk about the aji amarillo for a second. This is a spicy yellow chile pepper that is commonly used in Peruvian cooking, but it can be hard to find outside of specialty markets. There are a few options when it comes to substituting.

For a spicy salsa criolla, you could swap in a jalapeno pepper. They tend to have the same level of spice. For a sweeter salsa, you could use an orange or yellow bell pepper. Lastly, you could just leave it out. The salsa will still be packed with flavor. 

What to serve it with?

This punchy salsa can be served with so many dishes. Typically in Peru, it is found as a condiment on the table to add to pretty much anything - arroz chaufa (Peruvian fried rice), sandwiches, grilled meats, tamales, and even simple dishes like beans. 

  • This makes a great side dish for grilled meats to add brightness to the dish. Try it with grilled pork chops, grilled chicken, or grilled steak like this carne asada
  • Salsa criolla is also delicious with sandwiches and quesadillas. Grab some hearty bread, add sliced deli meat, veggies, and a layer of this salsa for an amazing sandwich or pile it high on a quesadilla. 
  • One of my favorite pairings for criolla salsa is simple rice bowls. The salsa adds so much flavor to a simple bowl with rice, black beans, and vegetables. Another option to try is some cooked brown rice, canned tuna, chopped fresh veggies, and a few spoonfuls of this salsa. 
  • If you are planning on serving some plain black beans with dinner, add salsa criolla on the side to create a much more flavorful side dish option.
  • For a simple meal, toast up a slice of whole wheat bread and add a layer of avocado or hummus. Then add the salsa criolla on top for the best toast you've ever had. 

Rice bowl with salsa criolla and shrimp with a jar of pickled onions and tomatoes on the side.

How long does it last in the fridge?

Salsa criolla is best eaten within a couple of days of preparing it since the tomatoes will break down in the lime juice after too much time. If you want this to last a bit longer, add fresh tomatoes right before serving.

If you leave out the tomatoes, this will last 1-2 weeks in the fridge. Lime juice is a natural preservative, With that said, the onions will become slightly softer the longer they sit but they will remain really delicious. 

Tips and Recipe Ideas

  • Make sure to slice the red onions very thin for best results. A mandolin or very sharp knife helps to make sure you get thinly sliced onions.
  • Tomatoes are optional in this dish but I love the flavor they add. Make sure the tomatoes aren't over-ripe so they don't get mushy in the mixture. Tomatoes can be sliced into larger chunks (like they are pictured) or you can scoop out the seeds and cut the tomatoes into much smaller slices or chunks.
  • Since aji amarillo can be difficult to find, use a jalapeno for a spicy salsa criolla or a bell pepper for a less spicy option. 
  • Make this with fresh cilantro or parsley. You can also leave out the fresh herbs if needed or used dried.
  • Look for juicy limes since you will need a good amount of juice to cover the onions and ensure they pickle and soak up the flavors. 
  • Give the onions a good stir after an hour in the fridge to make sure they are have time to soak in the liquid.
The Recipe
Salsa criolla with red onions, tomatoes, and lime juice in a glass jar with a spoon.

Peruvian Salsa Criolla

COOK TIME: 2 Hours
TOTAL TIME: 2 Hours, 10 Min
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  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1/2 jalapeno, diced (normally an aji Amarillo or bell pepper can be used)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 tbsp cilantro (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Thinly slice the onion using a mandolin or sharp knife. If you have time, soak the onions in a bowl with cold water and ice for 10 minutes. This helps remove some of the harshness and bite in the onions. Drain and pat dry using a towel.


Add the onions, tomatoes, pepper, cilantro, salt, and pepper to a jar or container. Cover with the lime juice. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Stir the onions and tomatoes halfway so that all the onions have a chance to soak in the lime juice.

Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 1/4 cup
Amount Per Serving
Calories 13
Calories from Fat 1
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 0g
Saturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 2mg
Total Carbohydrate 3g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 2g
Protein 0g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.

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About the author Meet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
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