Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Delicious salsa

I'm not a big fan of salsa out of a jar, but I love the fresh stuff. My husband and I tried our hand at homemade after having some really good salsa at Cafe de la Paz and now I'll never go back. It involves a lot of chopping, of course, but otherwise, couldn't be easier.

The quantities here are very general, pretty much everything can and should be altered to taste. We usually make a big batch and eat it over a week - it keeps well, but loses a lot of the fresh cilantro flavor after a few days. It's also a great potluck staple. Who doesn't love chips and salsa?

5-8 medium tomatoes [firm varieties work best, but I buy whatever's cheap]
2 generous pinches salt
1 red onion
1-2 green or yellow bell peppers [I get a little variety pack of sweet peppers from the Mexican grocery store around the corner, they work wonderfully]
hot pepper (e.g., serrano or Anaheim) to taste. [I leave these out, personally, but if you like some spice, have a ball.]
Bunch (a couple handfuls worth) of fresh cilantro

Make it:
Cut the tomatoes into 1/4 inch chunks using a serrated knife (I use our bread knife but a regular steak knife will do). Tomatoes are kind of tricky to cut up uniformly because they're slippery, but once you get the hang of it, it's not so bad - in my experience, the best method is to cut them in half, slice the halves into wedges through the flesh side, and then cut the wedges into 4-5 chunks.

Sprinkle the tomato chunks with salt and then put them into a colander to strain off as much of the liquid as you can. The salt will help extract the liquid. I've found that this salsa tends to be pretty watery no matter what, so the longer the tomatoes drain, the better - let them hang out in the colander while you cut up the onion (small dice) and bell peppers (1/4 inch dice, remove as much of the membrane as you can).

If you do use the hot peppers, be careful to wash your hands and the cutting board thoroughly afterward. High on my list of things that suck are (1) getting capsaicin in my eyes; and (2) hot pepper flavor in a recipe where it's not wanted.

Combine the three main ingredients in your serving/storage bowl (never get more bowls dirty than is absolutely necessary. Mise en place is all well and good, but I don't have a dishwasher). If you're feeling spunky, you could throw in some pineapple chunks or mango at this point, too.

Chop up the cilantro - you can be anal retentive and pull the leaves off the stems if you want; I just chop straight off the bunch. Run the knife through your pile both vertically and horizontally to ensure a relatively fine, even chop, and then add the cilantro to the salsa. Salt and pepper to taste, making sure to take into consideration the saltiness level of your tortilla chips.

I promise my next entry will NOT prominently feature tomatoes.

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