Monday, May 7, 2012

Fast and simple homemade salsa

When I was in Mexico as a student, I got to taste a lot of wonderful, homemade Mexican cuisine. The foods are fresh, crisp and light and simply wonderful - not like what we think of as Mexican food typically in the USA. Americans think of tacos in hard shells with sour cream and lots of cheese or huge burritos with tons of meat and cheese and cream. Those are American takes of the cuisine, but like most things, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

When I came back from Mexico - with a few recipes from the woman I was living with and some experience at a great restaurant in Chicago, Frontera Grill (neighbor restaurant of the famed Topolobampo restaurant both run by Rick Bayliss), I set out to learn to make a lot of classic and modern twists of Mexican cuisine. I use a lot of fresh veggies in a way that is so tasty and so good for you and one of those things I learned to make was homemade salsa.

In Rick Bayliss's cookbook, Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine, he details a lot of simple, rustic recipes. I use a lot of them as is, but over time I simplified a few - like his salsa. At first I roasted the veggies and so on, but later I just threw it all in a food processor and called it good for a 5-10 minute salsa that rivals the best you will ever taste in a restaurant and is leaps and bounds better than anything from a jar.

This weekend, for Cinco de Mayo, just for fun, I decided to make a Mexican feast. It also marked 17 years (and one day) since I spent a summer in Mexico. As always, in the kitchen I am a whirlwind - a force to be reckoned with. I have a system and I'm speedy, so stopping to take photos is a challenge for me, but I did it - with the iphone, but that's better than nothing.

So, here is what I do for a quick homemade salsa that makes about 3 cups. Most of the time I make a mild salsa as my mother in law who lives with us can't take any heat in her food, but the only thing you would do differently from below would to be add one to two cored and seeded jalepeno peppers to the ingredients.

So, here are the ingredients:

  • 3 ripe medium sized tomatoes (or 2 pints of cherry tomatoes - or whatever tomatoes you want to use) cut in wedges
  • 1 small onion or half a large onion cut in wedges (white is more authentic - but they are really large, so use 1/3 to 1/2 of one of those)
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, washed and trimmed
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice (fresh is best, but bottled works - lemon juice will work in a pinch)
  • 2/3s of a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 cored/seeded, quartered jalepeno peppers (optional and not pictured)
I love working with cilantro as it smells so fresh and unlike most herbs, you can and should eat the stems. Parsley you need to take off just the leaves - not so with the cilantro - you just wash it up and cut off how much you need. Typically, bunches are small, so I use the whole thing, but last night I had a large bunch, so I cut off the top half.

I cut the tomatoes and onion (peeled and trimmed) in wedges, peel the clove of garlic and wash and trim the cilantro to the right size:

This is what I had leftover from the top photo (more cilantro and a bit of onion);

I then put it in the food processor. The order of putting them in does matter. You want your spices on the bottom as it's important to get them thoroughly minced, so place the garlic and optional quartered jalepenos in the bottom, then distribute the cilantro over that, ending with tomatoes and onions on top. Like so:

You don't want to liquify it, but you do want to make the chunks fairly small. It will look like this when it's done:

Then add the lime juice and salt and stir it up all up to distribute:

The one caveat of homemade salsas is that they are good then and there. They do not store well as a fresh salsa; however, they do cook well in either a spanish rice, with ground meat, or a a sauce to simmer chicken. Just make a fresh batch every time you need it for tacos or nachos.

I also make a salsa verde and this one you can freeze. I'll detail that one some other day.

1 comment:

  1. Our friends introduced us to fresh salsa. It is simply amazing and can be used with so many different things. The flavors pop! I can handle a taste of jarred salsa in a pinch, if I'm truly desperate, but that's it.