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Making Traditional and Innovative Salsas from Scratch PDF Print E-mail

Editor's Note:  This is an excerpt from editor Gywneth Doland's book, Seductive Salsa, published in 2007. 

 

For thousands of years, Mesoamerican cooks have been grinding together chiles and tomatoes in rough stone mortars and today, salsa remains a part of every meal in Mexico, enlivening eggs at breakfast, fish tacos at lunch and hearty soups at dinner. In the past few decades, as salsa has become a household staple in the U.S., we've proudly claimed it as our own, improvising on the theme and making salsas out of nontraditional ingredients.

Still, the ancient method of making salsa, grinding by hand in a mortar and pestle, still gives the best flavor. Aromatic garlic and pungent chiles release intense flavors as they are ground with a pear-sized tejolote in a bowl-shaped molcajete. Of course, most Americans have blenders and food processors, not stone mortars, so that's what we're used to using. But if you're serious about salsa, you should seek out this ancient equipment. Molcajetes come in various sizes, but a 20-pound one should be large enough for most salsa recipes in this book. Look for them in Mexican markets, or online at sites like MexGrocer.com or GourmetSleuth.com.

You'll find that in these recipes I call for roasting tomatoes, onions and chiles, techniques that bring out another level of flavor that is especially appealing. Don't be tempted to skip over recipes that require these extra steps. I promise you'll be surprised by what a difference it makes. If you want to broil the ingredients instead of roasting them in a cast-iron pan on the stovetop, go ahead. That works just as well, if not better. You could also grill many of the ingredients. Experiment with different methods and use what works for you.

Many recipes call for allowing the salsa to rest. This is an important step, especially in chunky recipes that don't call for pureeing. You may find that a pico de gallo you thought was way too hot at first has mellowed by 30 minutes later; or the salsa that wasn't smoky enough just needed a little time to "get it together." Generally speaking, however, salsa is best the day it's made.
 

Confetti Dill Salsa

This salsa is prettiest when you dice everything into pieces 1/4-inch square. It takes time, but people will appreciate it! Serve the salsa with chips or sprinkled over cooked fish, or mix it with a little olive oil and some canned tuna for a colorful tuna salad.

1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced

1/2 yellow bell pepper, finely diced

1/2 orange bell pepper, finely diced

1--3 serrano peppers, finely diced

2 shallots, finely diced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Juice of 1 lime or lemon

Salt

In a bowl, toss together the red, yellow and orange bell peppers, serrano peppers, shallots and dill. Season to taste with lime or lemon juice and salt.

Yield: 2 cups

Heat Scale: Mild

 

Salsa Roja de Molcajete

Impress your guests by making this traditional red salsa with a lava-rock mortar and pestle (molcajete and tejolote). If you don't have one, put the ingredients in the work bowl of your food processor and pulse until it is smooth, but still chunky. Serve the salsa in a bowl or straight from the molcajete, with freshly fried tortilla chips.

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup chopped white onion

1--2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped

3 medium tomatoes, chopped and seeded

Salt

Using the tejolote, grind the garlic to a paste in the molcajete. Add the onion and chiles and grind until blended. Add the tomatoes, crushing and grinding until smooth but still chunky. Season to taste with salt.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Heat Scale: Mild

 

 

Salsa Verde de Molcajete

The uncooked tomatillos in this green salsa give it a refreshing tart flavor.

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup chopped white onion

2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped

1/2 pound tomatillos, husked and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves

Salt

Using the tejolote, grind the garlic to a paste in the molcajete. Add the onion and chiles and grind until blended. Add the tomatillos, crushing and grinding until smooth but still chunky. Stir in the cilantro and season to taste with salt. If you don't have a molcajete, put the ingredients in the work bowl of your food processor and pulse until it is smooth, but still chunky. Serve the salsa in the molcajete, with freshly fried tortilla chips.

Yield: 2 cups

Heat Scale: Mild
 
Japanese Cucumber Salsa

 
Sunomono is a Japanese salad made with sliced cucumbers in a tangy dressing; you may have seen it on the menu at your favorite sushi restaurant. If you dice the cucumbers, sunomono becomes a salsa that makes a lively accompaniment to fresh oysters, seared tuna steaks, or fried soft-shell crabs. Feel free to experiment with this simple recipe, adding shreds of dried seaweed or toasted sesame seeds.

2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced (2 cups)

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes

Salt

In a bowl, toss the cucumbers with the rice wine vinegar and sugar. Add salt to taste. Marinate the salad for at least 20 minutes. Taste again, adjust the salt and sugar, if necessary and serve.

Yield: 2 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

 

Guacamole de Molcajete

As you know, avocados quickly turn brown after they're cut, so guacamole starts to look pretty yucky if you make it too far in advance. The best way to prepare and serve this traditional Mexican appetizer is to let your guests watch you grind up the ingredients in the molcajete, then let them start dipping right away.

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons chopped white onion

2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and chopped

2 large, ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and roughly chopped

1 medium tomato, seeded and diced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Juice of 1 lime, or to taste

Salt

Using the tejolote, grind the garlic to a paste in the molcajete. Add the onion and jalapenos and grind until blended. Add the avocados, crushing just until blended. Stir in the tomato, cilantro and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately.

Yield: 2 cups

Heat Scale: Mild

Watermelon and Basil Salsa

Use a seedless watermelon, if you can find one and you'll save yourself a little hassle making this salsa. If you have pink and yellow watermelons you can use some of each for a prettier result. I like the combination of basil and watermelon, but you can also use cilantro or mint. Serve it over any kind of fish or seafood.

1 1/2 cups diced watermelon (seeds removed)

1/4 cup diced red onion

1 serrano chile, seeded and minced

10 basil leaves, shredded

Juice of 1 lime

Salt

In a bowl, toss the watermelon with the onion, chile, basil leaves and lime juice. Season to taste with salt.

Yield: 2 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Cranberry Pineapple Salsa

Leftover turkey breast is a lot more exciting when served with this cranberry salsa.

1 cup diced pineapple

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup diced red onion

2 serrano peppers, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon lime juice

Salt

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

In a bowl, toss the pineapple with the cranberries, onion, peppers and lemon and lime juices. Season to taste with salt, then cover and allow to rest for at least 1 hour. Stir in cilantro and serve.

Yield: 2 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Adapted from

Seductive Salsa, by Gwyneth Doland, published by Rio Nuevo. For autographed copies of this and other titles by Gwyneth Doland go to gwynethdoland.com.

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