Lizano salsa

(Picture courtesy of dOug&rObyn’s photostream at

One sauce that is found on almost everything in Costa Rica, Lizano costs a pretty penny to buy.   There are few products that keep their secrets, and much experimentation has resulted in some sauces that come pretty close.   This one sounds like the real thing, but I don’t guarantee it.

I should mention this though most of you probably know this.  When you handle any pepper (besides bell), you should take care not to touch any sensitive part of your skin, eyes, nose, etc.  If you want, wear gloves.  I’m just really careful.  If you make this stuff in big batches, take note:  as you cook the sauce, the pepper will release some capsaicin into the air with the steam, creating a similar effect to being maced or pepper sprayed.  Same thing happens if you throw ground pepper on a hot pan.  It’s about the worst feeling ever, and takes several minutes to clear out the kitchen, and the entire time your lungs burn.  Cook on low heat, and avoid breathing deeply over the pot to minimize this side effect.  Also, using chilies lower on the scoville heat unit scale would help.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: approx 20 minutes

  • Mince onion, carrot, tomato, two habaneros (don’t use the seeds unless you want your ass handed to you)  and two sprigs of cilantro.  Throw into small pot.
  • Cut a lime in half, juice both sides into the pot.
  • Dash in some apple cider vinegar (helps it keep fresh, also is slightly sweeter than white vinegar).  I’d say a tablespoon or two is good.  If you can smell it overpowering everything else in the pot, you put in too much
  • Liberal amounts of salt, probs at least 2 tablespoons.  It’s a condiment, can’t really be too salty.
  • Add some more spice in, just to keep it flavorful.  Cumin, ground coriander, chili powder, some cayenne to back up the heat, whatever you wanna do.  Also, it might be easier to use garlic powder (gasp!) instead of legit garlic cloves, since it’ll spread the flavor around easier.
  • Cook it covered on medium low to low heat for anywhere from 10-20 minutes, you basically want it to thicken up and break down some of the tougher ingredients (read: carrots).  If you have xantham gum or anything like it (I used cornstarch, though that’s not the best way of going about it), that can also thicken it up.  Stir occasionally.
  • If you have a food processor, and want it smoother, feel free to pop it in.  I do not own one, and my blender wouldn’t do anything with 6 ounces of liquid besides laugh at me and make weird smells.
  • Put it in a container and refrigerate it.  On the safe side, I’ll bet it keeps for 2 weeks, though depending on how much vinegar you use, maybe more?  My family genes gave me near invincibility, (with the exception of allergies that exist only in Missouri) so I don’t worry about bacteria nearly as much as I should.  (I’m kidding Mom.  Safety first!)

Now, this is not any official way to make your own sauce, it just came out of me playing in the kichen over the last two years.  Again, a cuisinart would make this job much easier.  If anyone has any tips, leave em in the comments.

The same theory could be applied to jalapeños, serrano, ancho, chiles de arbol, thai chilis or cayenne.  Also, you could fool around with adding different fruits such as peaches (consider roasting them and pairing with chipotle to give it smokey flavor).   Mango would also be quite nice with the habs.  Luckily all these ingredients are pretty cheap unless you are buying mass quantity, and allow for experimentation.  Once you get it right, it becomes much cheaper to make your own sauce in greater quantity than the bottle at the store.

The particular tastes of any devotee of the actual product may or may not find satisfaction here.   We all crave certain things, and no substitutes allowed.

The taste for Lizano salsa has been strong enough to build a whole industry on.   No need to tell you, it’s worth a try.

Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.