Cranberry Salsa

This Cranberry Salsa is a stunning holiday crowd pleaser, ready in minutes, and make ahead friendly!

This Cranberry Salsa is a favorite, festive holiday appetizer that everyone raves about. Best of all, it’s easy to make in the food processor in literally minutes and can be made days in advance AKA the perfect stress-free party food!  This salsa is a mesmerizing combination of sweet, tangy, spicy, fresh and vibrant. It’s divine over a bed of luxurious cream cheese with crackers, delicious plain with tortilla chips or instantly jazzes up your favorite protein. No matter how you serve it, this Cranberry Salsa recipe is always a hit.   

If you love holiday appetizers, then don’t miss Cranberry Brie Bites, Cranberry Pistachio Cheese Log and Cranberry Baked Brie in Puffed Pastry.

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HOW TO MAKE CRANBERRY SALSA VIDEO

front view of cranberry salsa over cream cheese

CRANBERRY SALSA RECIPE

You might think salsa is synonymous with summer like my pineapple mango salsa, strawberry salsa, mango salsa, pineapple salsa, corn salsa and avocado corn salsa, but have you ever had cranberry salsa?  It’s synonymous with winter holidays!

We love serving this festive Cranberry Salsa for Thanksgiving and Christmas and every gathering in between.  It’s one of those appetizers that’s so addictively delicious that you look forward to it all season long until the first batch of cranberries finally arrive at the grocery store. 

Here’s why you’ll this love cranberry salsa:

  • Can’t stop eating fabulous.  The juicy cranberries, jalapenos, cilantro, ginger, apple, red onions and green chilies combine to create a fresh, sweet, spicy, tangy rainbow that is almost intoxicating against the luxuriously velvety cream cheese. Add the crunch of salty crackers and I’m a goner – or more like the salsa is a goner.
  • One of the easiest appetizers you’ll ever make.  Blend the ingredients together in your food processor in minutes to create the bright, refreshing appetizer without even turning on your stove!
  • It’s a THE make-ahead recipe of the season.   This salsa can be made ONE WEEK in advance! 
  • You can make it perfect for YOU.  Add or omit any ingredients you’d like, choose the spice level, the sweetness and the tartness. 
  • It’s not just for snacking.  It’s also spectacular on pork, chicken, turkey, steak. fish, etc.
side view of cranberry salsa served over cream cheese with crackers

INGREDIENTS FOR CRANBERRY SALSA

This Cranberry Salsa is made with simple, fresh ingredients.  You will need:

  • Cranberries:  one 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries will do the trick. Be sure to wash and thoroughly dry the cranberries and pick out any that are soft. Cranberries can usually be found in the grocery stores from October through January, right after the cranberry harvest, so snatch them up while you can!  If you know you want to make this recipe again next year, you may wish to stockpile bags of fresh cranberries in your freezer.   
  • Can I use frozen cranberries?  Yes!  To use frozen cranberries, thaw them completely before using.  
  • Granny Smith apple: adds great crunch and flavor. Peel, core and roughly chop the apple.  Don’t worry about chopping it even or finely because it’s going into the food processor.
  • Red onion: I like the fresh pop of red onion but if you would like to soften the bite, you can submerge the diced onions in cold water for 10 minutes, then drain and pat dry. You may also substitute with green onions.
  • Jalapeno: remove the seeds and the white veins of your jalapenos because these pack the fieriest heat.  You can add the seeds back in after you taste the salsa if you still want more heat.
  • Cilantro: adds a bright, fresh, zesty, citrus pop.  Measure the cilantro before chopping by pressing the bunch into a measuring cup.  You can use more or less to taste. 
  • Lime Juice: you can use fresh or bottled lime juice but fresh is best.  Use more or less to taste depending on how sweet or tart your cranberries are and how tangy you’d like the salsa.
  • Sugar:  cranberries are very tart so they need to be balanced by sugar otherwise the salsa will be inedible.  Use ½ cup sugar as a guide and use more or less depending on the tartness of your cranberries and personal taste. I personally like the salsa on the tangy side, so I stick with about ½ cup, although you’ll see some recipe with up to 1 cup!
  • Ginger: adds a festive peppery kick and pairs beautifully with the cranberries.  The ginger is going to be added to the food processor, so just peel the outside and roughly chop, no need to grate.
  • Diced green chiliesone 4 ounce can adds a robust kick of tanginess for added dimension. Make sure to purchase mild and not hot green chilies unless you like spice!
  • Seasonings:  salt, pepper and ground cumin round out the flavor profile.
showing how to serve cranberry salsa in a bowl with tortilla chips

SPICE LEVEL OF BEST CRANBERRY SALSA

The spice level of this Cranberry Salsa is completely up to you by using more or less jalapenos.  That being said, you may need more than you think.  This recipe makes a lot of salsa and the heat is also mellowed when served with cream cheese.  I initially added 2 seeded jalapenos and it wasn’t spicy at all, and almost tasted bland because it wasn’t spicy enough.  I ended up adding a total of 4 jalapenos which finally brought the heat. 

So, I suggest purchasing 4 jalapenos, starting with 2 seeded jalapenos if you don’t like heat, 3 if you do like heat and then be ready to add additional jalapeno or jalapeno seeds to ramp up the heat.

HOW TO MAKE CRANBERRY SALSA

Are you ready to see just how easy it is to make Cranberry Salsa? (Full ingredient measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post.)

  1. Chop ingredients.  Add all of the ingredients to your food process and pulse until it reaches your desired consistency.  I like mine on the fine side. 
  2. Chill for 30 minutes.  Transfer the salsa to the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve.  This allows time for the cranberries to macerate and work their magic.  During this process, the cranberries soften, release their juices and absorb the flavors around them.  The once tart cranberry is now zesty, spicy, and sweet all at once resulting in salsa with an amped-up taste.
  3. Adjust to taste. The flavors will mellow the longer the salsa chills so be prepared to do some jazzing up.  Add additional sugar if your cranberries are extra tart or if you would like the salsa less tangy. Add additional lime juice for tangier, jalapeno seeds or cayenne pepper for spicier and/or salt and pepper for flavor.  
showing how to make cranberry salsa by blending all of the ingredients in a food processor

TIPS and tricks FOR MAKING CRANBERRY SALSA

This Cranberry Salsa is super simple to make, but here are a few tips that will make it even better!

  • Be prepared to adjust ingredients to make it YOUR perfect salsa.  The ingredient quantities are just a guideline, especially because all cranberries will be more or less tart and jalapenos can be more or less spicy. That being said, wait to adjust to taste until after the salsa has chilled and you’re ready to serve.  If you chill the salsa overnight, the flavors will mellow significantly so be prepared to add additional punches of heat and tanginess. I also add additional salt and pepper.
  • Add jalapeno to taste. If your salsa tastes bland, it probably doesn’t have enough heat.  I recommend starting with at least 2 jalapenos and being prepared to add up to 4 seeded jalapenos OR reserve the seeds from your jalapenos and stir them in a little at a time to taste. 
  • Avoid eye contact.  Take care not to touch your face after handling the jalapeños. You don’t want any of the pepper juice to get on your skin or in your eyes!
  • Use cilantro leaves and stems. There is no need to pick off and separate the fresh cilantro leaves from the stems. When using any fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley and oregano (those without a woody stem, unlike rosemary and thyme), use the leaves with the stem.  The stems offer substantial flavor and texture.
  • Use your blender if needed.  If you do not have a food processor then use your blender to chop the ingredients, just take care you don’t overdo it!  You want diced salsa and not pureed salsa.
scooping up cranberry salsa with a cracker

SERVING SUGGESTIONS: 

With simple ingredients and simple prep, this Cranberry Salsa is ready to be served as an appetizer, salsa or sauce!  Here’s a few different ways you can enjoy it:

RECIPE VARIATIONS:

You can mix up your Cranberry Salsa with any of the below add-ins, or anything else you can dream up! 

  • Pineapple: swap some of the cranberries for ripe pineapple for juicy, sweet freshness. 
  • Mangos: add 1- 2 ripe mangos.
  • Red bell pepper:  for added texture and sweetness.
  • Berries:  blueberries, blackberries etc. add extra juicy sweetness.
  • Stone fruit: add peaches, nectarines, plums, or apricots.
  • Coconut:  for a tropical vibe.  Try adding toasted coconut like I do in my Pina Colada Fruit Salad.
  • Mint:  fresh mint adds another dimension of flavor.

How to Store Cranberry Salsa

Can Cranberry Salsa be made ahead? Yes! This Cranberry Salsa will last in the refrigerator for up to 7 days stored in an airtight container.  When ready to serve, drain off some of the liquid and adjust to taste because the flavors will continue to mellow as it chills.   

Can you freeze cranberry salsa? 

Cranberry Salsa is best served fresh but it can be frozen in an airtight container for up to one month. When ready to serve, let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator and drain off excess liquid.  Adjust to taste as needed.  If you don’t want to worry about loss in texture when freezing, try pureeing it!  Pureed salsa makes a fabulous sauce for chicken, fish or pork and a dip for shrimp.

showing how to serve cranberry salsa with up close of holding a cracker with cream cheese and cranberry salsa

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front view of cranberry salsa over cream cheese

Cranberry Salsa

This Cranberry Salsa is a favorite, festive holiday appetizer that everyone raves about. Best of all, it’s easy to make in the food processor in literally minutes and can be made days in advance AKA the perfect stress-free party food!  This salsa is a mesmerizing combination of sweet, tangy, spicy, fresh and vibrant. It’s divine over a bed of luxurious cream cheese with crackers, delicious plain with tortilla chips or instantly jazzes up your favorite protein. No matter how you serve it, this Cranberry Salsa recipe is always a hit.   
Servings: 12 -15 servings
Prep Time: 5 mins

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Ingredients

Salsa

  • 1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, more or less to taste
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 4 ounce can diced green chilies
  • 2-4 jalapenos, seeded, roughly chopped (reserve the seeds)
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp EACH salt, pepper

For serving

  • 2 blocks (16 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • crackers, crostini or bread if serving with cream cheese
  • tortilla chips if serving plain

Instructions

  • Combine all the Salsa ingredients in a food processor and process to desired consistency (I like mine pretty fine). Wait to adjust to taste until ready to serve.
  • Chill for at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve (up to one week) to let the cranberries macerate in the sugar (they will become less tart).
  • When ready to serve, drain off excess liquid. The flavors will mellow and the salsa will become less tart the longer it is chilled so be prepared to do some jazzing up. Add additional sugar if your cranberries are extra tart or if you would like the salsa less tangy. Add additional lime juice for tangier (I'm generous), jalapeno seeds or red pepper flakes for spicier and/or salt and pepper for flavor.
  • To serve, place cream cheese on a plate and pour some of the drained salsa over top. You can also spread the cream cheese into an even layer in a dish then top with the salsa. Serve with crackers.
  • The salsa can also be served plain with tortilla chips, or as a side to chicken, pork, turkey, salmon or steak.

Video

Notes

*Prep time does not include chilling.

How to Store leftover or make ahead

  • Storage/Make Ahead:  this salsa will last in the refrigerator for up to 7 days stored in an airtight container.  When ready to serve, drain off some of the liquid and adjust to taste because the flavors will continue to mellow as it chills.   
  • How to freeze: the salsa is best served fresh but it can be frozen in an airtight container for up to one month. When ready to serve, let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator and drain off excess liquid.  Adjust to taste as needed.  If you don’t want to worry about loss in texture when freezing, try pureeing it!  Pureed salsa makes a fabulous sauce for chicken, fish or pork and a dip for shrimp.

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2 Comments

  1. Charlotte says

    This salsa is delicious! I stick with 1/2 cup of sugar, but I add 1-2 tablespoons of orange juice concentrate to add an citrusy, sweet compliment to the tart cranberries. Letting it chill overnight gives the flavors the best chance to blend and develop. Wait to adjust the sugar or spice until it’s had a chance to chill overnight, because I find that the heat is more prominent and the tartness more mellow the next day. Sometimes I use red pepper flakes if I need to add more heat the next day. I’m always generous with the lime. True Lime packets (crystallized lime juice) are a better substitute than bottled lime juice. The flavor is truer to the flavor of fresh lime juice, and it’s much easier than juicing limes! I keep it on hand for everything from salsa to chicken to soup to smoothies, etc.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for your awesome review and such helpful tips! I love the idea of adding orange concentrate, red pepper flakes and lime packets – brilliant!

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