Patti Bess: Salsas — The life of the party
Summer is salsa season. When friends gather in the backyard, salsas are the life of the party and with good reason. Nothing is easier for the cook than to throw a few ingredients into the food processor, whirl them together and scoop the resulting blend into a serving bowl. A basket of chips or an assortment of cut-up raw vegetables — and it’s a party. With a little imagination and a sharp knife or food processor, there are unlimited possibilities.
We eat with our eyes. The lively colors and diverse textures of salsas send a message to the brain before food even enters the mouth. Salsas also weave more nutritional powerhouses into your meal (fruits and vegetables).
There is one preparation rule — using ingredients at the peak of ripeness. Lifeless veggies make for a lifeless salsa. Fresh and light, salsas bring pizzazz to grilled meats, sandwiches, cheeses and appetizer offerings.
The best salsas balance texture, color and flavor. Every ingredient has a job to do. Add lemon, lime or vinegar for acidity and to balance the sweetness of vegetables and fruits. Green onions, jalapenos, and garlic give salsa a little oomph. Generally, denser tomatoes like Romas hold their shape better. Yellow tomatoes are fairly firm and add a lovely color dimension. Many other choices like: jicama, black beans, cucumber, peaches, cilantro, parsley, and other herbs enhance flavor.
Salsas need to stand for 15 to 20 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to mingle, but they are best eaten within a few hours after assembling. If they sit too long the acids will “cook” the other ingredients softening their texture. Raw onions, chilies and garlic begin to overpower other ingredients after a day in the refrigerator. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocados don’t hold up for more than a few hours.
Grilled Corn and Avocado Salsa
This salsa/side dish is perfect with grilled vegetables, chicken, or salmon, and any Mexican entree. You can roast the corn as the grill is heating up before adding the meats or main dish foods.
3 ears corn, husked
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Roma tomatoes
1-2 jalapeño peppers
2 to three cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lime juice (or to taste)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or small amount cumin
1 avocado cut into bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare a hot fire in the grill. We like our corn lightly grilled. If you prefer a more cooked taste, precook it for 2 minutes in boiling water. Drain and cool.
Brush corn with olive oil. Grill, turning occasionally, until it has light brown grill marks evenly distributed. Cut tomato in half and grill, turning once, until skin is slightly charred and tomato is softened, about 3-5 minutes. Place whole jalapenos on the grill, turning frequently, until skin is charred, about 5-7 minutes.
While the grilled vegetables are cooling; add garlic, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper to a medium sized bowl. Peel and cut up avocado; add to the bowl. Cut corn kernels off cob and add. Peel tomatoes (skin will come off easily) and jalapenos. Chop them fine and add to the bowl. Toss to mix and serve at room temperature. Makes 5-8 servings.
Peach Mint Salsa with Toasted Pecans or Walnuts
1/2 cup pecans or walnut pieces
3 ripe peaches, peeled and finely diced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 fresh mint leaves, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread out the nuts in a single layer on a small baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned, six to eight minutes. Dry roasting in a small fry pan can also work. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to cool; then chop coarsely.
Plunge the peaches into a medium saucepan of boiling water and count to ten. Remove them and cool under cold running water. Coax the skin off the peach with your fingers and chop.
In a medium bowl. Combine the roasted pecans and peaches with the bell pepper, red onion, mint, garlic, and lime juice. Stir and set aside. Allow to sit for 20 minutes before serving at room temperature.
Some like it hot. Some like it hotter. Adjust these ingredients to your family’s preference and enjoy.
1 pound tomatillos (about 12 medium)
1-2 jalapeno or serrano chiles, seeded
1 cup cilantro leaves (stems removed)
1-3 cloves garlic
Lime juice to taste
Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse well. Cut tomatillos in half and place in a saucepan with water barely covering. Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until just soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Add the drained tomatillos, jalapenos, cilantro, and garlic to the food processor. Add small amount of lime juice or reserved cooking liquid to the processor, pulsing as the sauce should have a coarse texture. Adjust the salt and lime flavors to your liking and set aside. Flavor and thickness will develop as it cools. Makes about 2 cups.
Patti Bess is a freelance writer, recipe developer, and cookbook author. She has written for more than 20 magazines in her career and lives in Grass Valley.
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