Saucy, spicy, and fresh
Salsa is a sauce, admittedly a very chunky, hearty sauce that doesn’t pour easily, but it is still a sauce! It’s also a sauce that, by most accounts, is the most popular condiment in the United States and perhaps in the world. Centuries before Columbus landed on the shores of the New World, tomato and pepper farming had spread from the land of the Incas to Central America and Mexico. The climate was perfect for growing lush crops of both, and blending these two veggies together was inevitable. Adding spices, onions, chilies, and herbs probably came from early beliefs that many of these commonly available ingredients are of real value in warding off fevers and other maladies. Plus, family recipes of salsa added lots of spark and variety to a diet based mainly on rice, beans, and corn.
Nowadays we love salsa for its color, nutrition, and fun flavors. Freshly made, chunky, and packed with interesting ingredients, it is not uncommon to see it on menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From breakfast burritos to late-night nachos, what’s not to like about fresh veggies, fruits, and hot chilies topping everything? The flavor profiles are endless, with supermarket shelves full of dozens of varieties. Some of the more interesting recipes include corn or fruits (think raspberries and peaches) and even watermelon!
Our favorites are a simple, fresh tomato salsa and a green salsa made from tomatillos. The tomatillo is a beautiful, usually green fruit, surrounded by an inedible, paper-like husk. As the fruit matures, it fills the husk, which will often split during harvesting. The husk turns brown, and when peeled fully open the ripe fruit inside can be yellow, red, green, or purple. These make particularly beautiful salsas and pack a little more intense flavor than a regular tomato salsa. Jalapeños make the perfect complement for tomatillos. We love serving a simple salsa verde with grilled fish, blackened shrimp, or enchiladas.
A popular dish that always includes a salsa is nachos. Not to be confused with the basic tortilla chips and orange cheese sauce you get at the movie theater, nachos can be a work of art. The blending of crisp homemade tortilla chips with salsa, refried beans, beef or chicken, onions, shredded cheese, fresh guacamole, and maybe some hot sauce is now a snack time classic. Perfect for casual entertaining, making your own nachos can be a fun way for guests to mix and mingle. Serve them with sangria or margaritas, and you’ve got an instantly successful party.
If you decide to make your own salsa, always go with what’s in season. Be sensitive to people’s unique sensitivity to spicy heat. By using different kinds of peppers and jalapeños, we usually make a medium-level salsa and let our guests add their own hot sauce to taste. Introduce your guests to your collection of hot sauces. We tend to pick up interesting blends when we travel, and it’s always fun to see everyone’s reaction to your most recent find.
Just be careful with one of our new favorites—ghost pepper hot sauce. These intense peppers were introduced to the western world around the year 2000 and were once known as the world’s hottest pepper (Guinness World Records now gives that distinction to the ‘Carolina Reaper’). Ghost peppers were first discovered in a remote area of northeastern India, where extremely hot temperatures (up to 130°F) and high humidity contribute to elevated heat levels in these peppers. Ghost peppers were probably named for the way the heat sneaks up on you when you eat one. Wow, it’s intense.
Healthy, fun, and flavorful, we hope you enjoy these recipes. Each recipe uses one of our favorite salsas. You can substitute the salsa you like the best and enjoy the dish with an icy margarita!
Makes 2 cups
4 tomatillos, husks and stems removed
2 jalapeño peppers
Juice of ½ lime
1 bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
Salt to taste
1. Preheat broiler to 500°F.
2. Place tomatillos and jalapeños on a baking sheet and broil for 5 minutes. Flip all and broil for another 5 minutes.
3. Dice jalapeños and remove seeds.
4. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, puree the tomatillos, jalapeños, lime juice, and cilantro until smooth. Season with salt to taste.
Pineapple Salsa with Grilled Fish or Chicken
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped
½ cup green bell pepper, chopped
⅓ cup red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of one large lime
1½ tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
½ to 1 small red chili or jalapeño pepper, without seeds, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and salt and pepper to taste. You can add more hot pepper or jalapeño if desired. Grill your favorite fish or chicken and top with fresh salsa.
Makes about 2½ cups
2 ripe mangos, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 small yellow or red pepper, finely diced
1 ripe yellow or red pepper, finely diced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger
Pinch of sea salt
Dash of hot sauce
Gently mix all together in a medium-sized bowl. Season to taste. Serve with Jamaican-style grilled chicken or shrimp.