Fresh Salsa


At first glance, this post probably looks super healthy.  It’s full of colorful, fresh veggies and  green, leafy herbs.  I just had a farm-fresh, vitamin-packed party, didn’t I?  Well, yes… and no.  Fresh salsa is extremely good for you.  But what you can’t see in these pictures is the mass of fatty, fatty goodness that my friend Joe and I made to go along with the salsa.

Joe and I have been cooking buddies for pretty much as long as we’ve been friends.  This started out in our kitchenless dorm back in Alabama; every once in a while, we’d borrow the res life director’s apartment for a day and crank out yeast bread and watch old movies.  Now that we’re both in Boston, with real kitchens of our own, our cooking days have improved immensely.  For one thing, Joe brews beer now.  The impetus for this night of salsa and other less healthy Mexican treats was the debut of his most recent IPA, which we thought just begged for some spicy food to go along with it.  One massive grocery run and probably a few pounds of cheese later, Fatty Fiesta was born.

But Fatty Fiesta is a topic for a later time.  Now is the time for this salsa.

Let’s start off with a confession: the tomatoes I used in this salsa were far from high-quality.  It’s May, and I live in the Northeast, which means good, flavorful tomatoes are still weeks away.  Grocery store tomatoes are one of my favorite things to get on my high horse about, and for good reason– I think we can all agree that they generally taste like cardboard.  But in an application like this, when they’re cooked with a bunch of other vegetables, they actually work pretty well.  I always go for the ones that are still attached to the vine; they’re a workable size, and they tend to have a bit more flavor than the giant hothouse tomatoes.

I know; all this smacks of hypocrisy.  If it’s true that your grocery store purchases are basically a vote at the cash register, then a purchase of bland, out-of-season tomatoes is a vote for the other team.  Sigh.  Even after two years of grad school in nutrition/ag studies, I still manage to feel like I’m usually doing it wrong.

But this salsa is fantastic, no bones about it.  And you can bet I’ll be making some with good tomatoes when they become available.

Start by slicing and seeding your tomatoes (no need to peel them unless you really want to).  Try to remove as much of the seedy liquid as possible.

Into the pot they go!

Next you’ll add minced garlic, chopped onion, diced bell pepper (I like orange or yellow for a dash of color), and some minced jalapeño.  Handling the insides of jalapeño peppers gives me awful skin burn, so if you have any gloves lying around, I’d suggest wearing them.  I have seriously used plastic bags before in the absence of gloves.  It looks ridiculous, but it works.  Incidentally, I forgot to cover my hands this time, and all I can say is ouch.  Turns out slathering your burned hand with cooking oil kind of helps, though.

Also add cilantro… a lot of cilantro.  Squeeze a lime in there, too.

Stir everything up in the saucepan, and add a dash of white vinegar.

Set the pan over low to medium-low heat, and let it simmer and cook down.  While it’s cooking, add just a bit of honey to the pot and stir it in.  We’re talking maybe a teaspoon; it’ll add just a tiny bit of sweetness to the otherwise spicy, slightly tangy mixture.  I usually let my salsa cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully drain off most of the liquid.

All right, now let’s talk about Fatty Fiesta for just a moment.  In addition to this fine salsa, the menu included my famous guacamole, Huevos Rancheros (both to be discussed in future posts), and… molten cheese in tiny pots.  Man oh man oh man.  These are dangerously easy to make, and impossible not to devour in seconds flat.  Just fill miniature oven safe dishes with queso fresco (or just plain old mozzarella if you can’t find any Mexican cheese), top with salsa, and pop them in the oven until the cheese bubbles and browns.  TOO good.  Like I said: fatty, fatty goodness.

Fresh Salsa
Feel free to make this recipe your own; play with proportions and substitutions until you get just the salsa you want.

4 small tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small white onion, chopped
1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
1/4 to 1/2 jalapeño pepper, minced (remove seeds and membranes if you want mild salsa)
cilantro to taste (I added almost half a bunch to this batch), roughly chopped
juice of 1/2 lime
salt and pepper to taste
about 1 teaspoon white vinegar
about 1 teaspoon honey

Combine first 8 ingredients (tomatoes through salt and pepper) in a medium-small saucepan; add vinegar and place pan over medium-low heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally.  After about five minutes, add the honey, and stir in.  Cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain off remaining liquid, allow to cool, and serve with tortilla chips.



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