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Salsa: Some Like It Hot July 13, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s time to talk about salsa, and of course, I have some favorite recipes to share. Not that I was planning to post on salsa today, but sometimes fate takes a hand here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. We’ll get to that story in a minute.

Yesterday was a great cooking day here at Hawk’s Haven. I started by making a batch of my wonderful Hot-Sweet Refrigerator Pickles (see my earlier post, “Painless pickles, potato salad, and pimiento cheese spread,” for the recipe). I also made a smaller container just for our heat-loving friend and blog collaborator Richard Saunders that used the first fresh cayenne peppers (chopped) from our own garden for extra heat. Yum! I’ll wait a week before starting to sample them to give the flavors a chance to develop (I’ve already padlocked the fridge as an anti-Ben precaution), then we’ll start enjoying the pickled cukes alongside cheese and tomato sandwiches or as part of our cocktail hour munchables, and use the pickled chopped sweet onions in our salads.  

Then I made my Super Squash Casserole for supper (see my post “Super summer squash recipes” for this recipe) using gorgeous yellow summer squash, garlic scapes, and fresh basil from our CSA and local sweet onions and mushrooms from the Kutztown, PA farmers’ market. (Believe it or not, there are lots of commercial mushroom houses and independent gourmet mushroom growers in this area.)

When the squash casserole was done, the heat turned off, and the casserole firming up in the oven, I made a simple but delicious side dish of mixed green and yellow wax beans from the farmers’ market, using a trick I’d learned from our friend Carolyn: Chop and boil the beans, and when they’re done, drain them, add some butter, swirl the pot around until the butter melts, and serve. I love this technique: It uses far less butter than if everyone had to add their own, and the butter melts right in, so there are no globs on top of people’s food and it’s totally distributed on every piece. It works beautifully on other veggies, too, including carrots and lima beans. When I make broccoli or asparagus, I’ll add lemon juice along with the butter before swirling, and of course, I always add a dash or two of salt. Before I learned this technique, I used to steam my veggies, but they never got cooked through and we just didn’t enjoy them. Thanks to Carolyn, we can now cook each veggie to perfection. Mmmmm!!!

I also made a simple but luscious salad of sliced tomatoes, fresh basil (and plenty of it), and fresh mozzarella dribbled with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt (we like Real Salt). I like to make individual salad plates when I do a tomato-and-mozzarella salad so I can arrange the ingredients artistically (fanning alternating slices of tomato and mozzarella in a circle, with a large whole basil leaf between each slice, is beautiful and colorful). I find that salt is essential to bring out the flavor of a salad like this, but if you simply refuse to use salt, I’d suggest adding white pepper or a touch of ground cayenne rather than black pepper. Or, say, a little fresh, chunky homemade salsa right in the center of each salad.

Our friend Ben and I ate our salads as a first course, then followed with generous squares of squash casserole and ample servings of green and yellow beans. So good! But oh dear, we were too full to eat any of the fresh blueberries or cherries I’d bought at the farmers’ market for dessert. (Never fear, we’ll get to them.) It was a lovely summer supper, with the chili lights blazing on the deck and the lightning bugs adding their own quiet, leisurely fireworks to the scene.

How nice for you, you’re probably thinking, but what’s this got to do with salsa?! Well, everything. Have you ever been haunted by a food? Yesterday, I was haunted by salsa. Not that it was out to get me, exactly, it simply wouldn’t let me forget about it. It insisted that I remember it when I was visiting favorite blogs in the morning, and when Ben and I were shopping at the farmers’ market in the afternoon, and when I was cooking supper last night. It appeared in my dreams. “People have been thinking of me,” it whispered. “People have been asking for me. So what are you going to do about it?”

Okay, okay, I can take a hint. It started when I saw an incredibly delicious recipe for fresh salsa on Aunt Debbi’s Garden (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/). Aunt Debbi’s post is called “Salsa: Another Vegetable Massacre,” and shows photos of the ingredients before and after. It is inspiring. Then, seemingly moments later, Zora at Gardenopolis (http://gardenopolis.wordpress.com/) posted “Delicious Dill Pickles”—which incidentally inspired me to buy a bunch of huge, incredible dill stalks with flower heads the size of my hands at the farmers’ market later that day—and asked me if I had any great salsa recipes. Salsa was clearly in the cards.

Now, I’ve posted the recipes for two of my favorite salsas, as well as all sorts of other Mexican Night favorites, in my earlier post “Fiesta time! It’s Cinco De Mayo!” But I’ll give them again here for those who’d like to have all their salsa recipes in one convenient location. These are my own favorite go-to recipes for fresh and canned salsa.

               Fresh Salsa a la Silence

1 large sweet onion (Candy, Vidalia, or Walla Walla type), diced fine

1 large red bell pepper and/or equivalent amount of mixed red, yellow, orange, and green bell peppers, diced fine

3-6 paste tomatoes, diced fine (paste tomatoes, being meatier and less juicy than other tomatoes, work best for this)

minced jarred jalapenos or fresh, de-seeded jalapenos to taste

chopped fresh cilantro to taste (we love cilantro and use tons)

1 teaspoon salt

splash lime juice

Mix, chill, and serve. This will keep well in the fridge for up to a week, so make double or triple batches as needed. We like fresh salsa with white corn tortilla chips, as one of the toppings for refried beans, on taco salad, and to add some crunch to quesadillas and bean dips. It also makes a killer topping for homemade pizza—pat it into the tomato sauce under the cheese and watch your guests go crazy!

              Primo Peach Salsa a la Silence

I tweaked a salsa recipe from my CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, created by CSA farmer Aimee Good, to take advantage of peach season, when we had an abundance of ripe peaches (we have just one dwarf ‘Reliance’ peach tree, but you should see the crop) and a ton of ripe tomatoes. Freeze or can it in a hot-water-bath-canner to use anytime, or refrigerate the cooked salsa and make a Mexican Night of it within a couple of weeks. This recipe makes a ton, so feel free to reduce the quantities as desired or give pints as (very welcome) gifts. Want plain salsa? Just skip the peaches!

2 large or 3 medium sweet onions, diced

6 sweet red bell peppers, diced

1 large or 2 small heads of garlic, minced

1/2 cup hot peppers, sliced or diced

8 quarts paste tomatoes, chopped

6 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped

1 1/3 cups red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 1/3 cups minced fresh cilantro

Cook tomatoes on medium heat in a large stockpot or Dutch oven, stirring occasionally. Saute the onions, bell peppers, hot peppers, garlic, and peaches in olive oil until tender; set aside. Continue to cook the tomatoes down on medium heat until desired thickness is achieved (this may take a few hours). Once the tomatoes have reached the thickness you want, stir in the sauteed veggies and peaches. Add the salt, cumin, coriander, and red wine vinegar. Add the chopped cilantro at the very end. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

To can, pack hot salsa in hot sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal with hot sterilized lids and process in a boiling-water bath for 20 minutes. Yields about 8-10 pints.    

We love these salsas because they’re simple and incredibly flavorful. But they don’t even begin to span the vast expanses of salsa recipes. I’ll give you a few more to try here. Warning: You won’t find us eating a black bean or bean-and-corn salsa, or giving you a recipe here for same. Why not? We love corn and beans, and salsa, for that matter. But to us, if you’re going to put together a corn, bean, and salsa mix, why not make a corn and black bean salad, with diced tomatoes, fresh cilantro, chopped sweet onions, salt, and chopped bell peppers, nest it in a bed of lettuce, and put your salsa (and maybe some lime-enhanced sour cream) on top? Popular as they are in salsas, corn and/or beans just don’t say “salsa” to us.

Let’s start our salsa tour with a fresh salsa from Canada’s Tomato Fresh Food Cafe, whose cookbook, As Fresh as It Gets, is one of our recent discoveries. We suggest trying this salsa in your very own fusion cuisine on a pita with feta cheese and hummus or baba ghannouj.

                 Mediterranean Salsa

1/2 cup Roma tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup fresh fennel, diced

1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup red onion, diced

2 tablespoons kalamata olives, diced

2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

zest and juice of 1/2 orange

4 teaspoons red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large bowl, toss the ingredients together. This salsa will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes 6-8 servings.

Another salsa-rich cookbook I love is Nancy Zaslavky’s Meatless Mexican Home Cooking. I’ll refrain from giving all her many salsa recipes, but every salsa-loving home cook should know how to make a basic fresh salsa verde. Try hers:

              Salsa Verde

10 tomatillos (about 1 pound), papery husks removed, washed of their sticky surfaces, and cored

1 medium white onion, coarsely chopped

3 jalapeno or serrano chiles, stemmed and coarsely chopped (seeded if you want milder salsa)

8 cilantro sprigs, chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

8 grinds of black pepper

Bring salted water to a boil. Drop in tomatillos and boil for just 1 minute. Drain and chop. Place the tomatillos, onion, chiles, cilantro, salt, and pepper in a blender and blend to a coarse puree. Taste for seasoning and serve at room temperature within 3 hours. Makes about 2 cups.

Note: If you love hot, like our friend Richard, don’t miss her Neon-Orange Liquid-Fire Salsa. But because this is actually a bottled hot sauce, not a salsa in the sense that we typically think of one, I’m not including it here. if you simply have to have it, buy the book!

I wouldn’t feel right leaving you without a roasted tomato salsa. Here’s one from another favorite cookbook, Lon Walters’ Vegetarian Southwest:  

              Roasted Tomato Salsa

4 plum tomatoes

1 serrano chile, minced

1 red onion, diced into 1/4-inch cubes

2 cloves garlic, finely diced

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin, toasted

1 teaspoon lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/8 cup dark beer

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes, serrano chile, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper in oil and roast for 20-30 minutes until vegetables are soft and browned. Cool, dice tomatoes, and toss vegetables with cumin, lime juice, cilantro, and beer. 

Are you inspired yet? After harvesting my first two tomatoes yesterday and buying lots more at the local farmers’ market, I’m ready to make some fresh salsa right now! We have a bag of Key limes for margaritas, and I may squeeze a few into the salsa to see if I can tell the difference. (We’ll have our own homegrown limes in a month or two. Thank goodness for the greenhouse!) Meanwhile, all you salsa lovers out there, if you have favorite versions to share, let’s hear ’em! There are so many variations, each distinctive and good. We can’t wait to try your suggestions!

                ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

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Comments»

1. Victoria - July 13, 2008

OMG, I am now so hungry! It all sounds fantastic and I can’t wait to get some free time (some year soon) to try out some of these recipes. By the way, if you want to try a different twist on butter on your wax beans, try a garlicky vinaigrette while they’re still hot. Try using lemon juice instead of vinegar, especially if you’re serving them with something rich, such as salmon.

Yum!!! Thanks, Victoria! I’ll try both those variations. I can taste them now!

2. deb - July 13, 2008

Thanks for the shout out. I think I am going to try that peach salsa. Sounds yummy.

Go for it, Deb! We loved it!

3. Cinj - July 14, 2008

Holy cow. That’s a lot of salsa recipes! Now you’re making me wish I were growing some tomatoes. I’ll have to comandeer some of MIL’s tomatoes.

Good idea, Cinj!

4. zora naki - July 15, 2008

Thank you – this was exactly what i was looking for – now i just need my tomatoes to ripen!

Great!!! Tell us what you do and how it turns out!

5. Rick Mansfield - July 15, 2008

I’ve created a link to this recipe in our newest “Cast Iron Around the Web” entry at http://www.cookingincastiron.com

Thanks, Rick! We pretty much do all our cooking in our fabulous LeCreuset cookware. Cast iron is the best!


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