It’s June and in East Texas, global pandemic or not, we all start looking for our first homegrown tomatoes. Those who don’t have home gardens find them at the farmers market. After a year of eating off-season tomatoes from around the hemisphere, biting into a fresh tomato ripened on the vine is like tasting a little bit of heaven.
Any dish is enhanced with these flavor-packed fruits. No wonder this indigenous food of the Americas became such a sensation around the world. In pre-Columbian America, tomatoes were added to peppers, squash and spices to make a relish that was eaten as a condiment with turkey, venison, lobster and fish. The Maya, Aztecs and Incas all made variations of this tasty sauce.
The Spaniards first recorded their encounter with this food in the early 1500s. A Franciscan priest, Alonso de Molina called this sauce “salsa” (the Spanish word for sauce) in his dictionary of the day and the term salsa has survived today as the wonderful condiment we all know from Mexican cuisine.
Recipes for salsa are as varied today as they were among the ancient Mesoamericans. Green tomatillos, pumpkin seed, avocado, and pineapple salsa are all popular condiments from various parts of Mexico, and most Mexicans would agree that a meal is not complete without salsa. But of course in the United States, the champion of all salsas is that irresistible tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeño and salt mixture that has become a staple at parties and on any Tex/Mex restaurant menu.
A few years back, when my kitchen counter was full of ripe homegrowns, I developed a recipe to transfer some of that fresh, succulent flavor into an easy-to-make salsa to accompany our next meal. While many salsa recipes blend fresh ingredients to make the sauce, this salsa enhances the flavors of the combined ingredients by cooking them together.
If you like your salsa to be a homogeneous mix, run it through the blender after cooling. I prefer a chunky salsa, so I eliminate the blending step. You can vary the degree of spiciness by how many jalapeño seeds you include. Seeding both peppers yields a mild salsa.
When I served my recipe to my favorite critic, Kathy exclaimed, “That’s the best salsa I ever had!” For those who do not know, Kathy is very discriminating about certain things: champagne, red wine, salsa and men.
Staying home more has provided ample opportunity to explore creativity. Shakespeare’s greatest burst of energy occurred between 1605 and 1606 when he composed ‘‘King Lear,’’ ‘‘Macbeth’’ and ‘‘Antony and Cleopatra.’’ This was a plague year in England and scholars believe he was quarantined.
So let’s explore our creativity. Get out your writing materials and put on your apron. Get the kids involved. It’s time to savor tomatoes.
Tim’s Summer Salsa
Serving Size: one-quarter cup
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
Juice of 1 small lemon (2 tablespoons)
Juice of 1 small lime (2 tablespoons)
Pinch of salt and black pepper
4 cups ripe tomatoes, diced
1 4oz can diced green chilies
½ bunch (1 cup chopped) cilantro, leaves only, chopped
In a large sauce pan, heat the olive oil. Sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are soft. Add the peppers, lemon/lime juice, salt and black pepper. Sauté for 1 minute.
Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Cool and serve. Makes about 2½ cups.
Blend this salsa to make an excellent ranchero sauce for enchiladas. For more spice, include the seeds of one or both jalapeños.
I first developed this recipe in the summer of 2004, no doubt looking for another way to use homegrown tomatoes. Kathy dubbed this salsa the best she had ever had. For those who don’t know, Kathy has very discriminating tastes.
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, ½ fat.
Nutrients per serving: Calories, 50; total fat, 2g; saturated fat, <1g; cholesterol, 0mg; sodium, 50mg; total carbohydrate, 6g; dietary fiber, 2g; and protein, 1g.