September 7, 2011 in Food

Sensational salsas

Paint with peppers and tint with tomatoes for bursts of color and flavor
Joe Bonwich St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 

This detailed view of various salsa recipes includes, clockwise from top left, Pretty and Peppery Salsa, Spicy Fruit Salsa and Pico de Gallo.
(Full-size photo)

Invent your own salsa recipe

When developing a salsa recipe, try to achieve balance among these elements:

Color: The huge variety of heirloom tomatoes and peppers now available provide a nearly unlimited palette.

Heat: Check the table to see where chilies rank on the Scoville scale, which measures heat. You can also add heat with hot sauces or ground spices. For chili flavor without much heat, use ground spice mixes.

Sweetness: Sweet flavors can moderate hot ingredients. Sweetness can come from expected sources, such as fruit, but also unexpected sources such as balsamic or other sweet vinegars, or even from the “fruity” flavors of the peppers themselves.

Acidity: In addition to its role in balancing the other elements, acidity – from vinegar, many fruit juices, slices of whole citrus fruits and other sources – can amplify the other ingredients’ flavors.

Aromatics: These will often be contributed by herbs, with cilantro a prime example. You can also use cumin, rosemary or another favorite herb, or an exotic element such as coffee.

Texture: Complementary or contrasting textures can add interest to a salsa. Corn, apples, pears and nuts are some examples of crunchy ingredients that can enhance smooth-textured salsas.

Hot, hotter and hottest

The heat of various chilies is measured in units on the Scoville scale, developed in 1912 by pharmacologist Wilbur L. Scoville. Here are estimates of how some common chilies measure up (ranges will vary based on growing regions and seasonal factors):

500,000-1,000,000+: Bhut Jolokia (ghost)

100,000 to 500,000: habanero, Scotch bonnet, African birdseye

50,000 to 100,000: Thai, chiltepin

30,000 to 50,000: aji Amarillo, piquin, cayenne

15,000 to 30,000: de arbol

5,000 to 15,000: hot wax, serrano

2,500 to 5,000: jalapeno, mirasol, chipotle

1,000 to 2,500: ancho, pasilla, Espanola, Anaheim, poblano

100 to 500: Mexi-bell, cherry, canned green chilies, Hungarian hot paprika

0 units: bell peppers, pimiento, sweet banana, U.S. paprika

The kaleidoscope of tomatoes and peppers now in season offers an almost unlimited color palette for making salsa.

And on the flavor side, the huge range of heirloom and standard tomatoes lets you go from expected to subtle to sweeter, with all kinds of tart or acidic or fruity notes to be found. Peppers range from all fruit and no heat in simple bell peppers to the incendiary habanero, which enflames a salsa called Dog’s Nose – so named, some say, because yours will be wet, too, after a single tiny bite.

(There’s an even hotter pepper, the Bhut Jolokia, which is also known as a “ghost” because that sounds so much better than “this might kill you if you eat it.” Use it at your own risk.)

The four recipes provided here illustrate a variety of styles of uncooked salsas: simple Pico de Gallo; sweet fruitiness in Spicy Peach Salsa; unexpected peppery flavors from arugula and mustard greens in Pretty ’n’ Peppery Salsa; and a daring level of fire in the Dog’s Nose Salsa, which is also known by the Mayan words for dog’s nose, Xni Pec (SHNEE-pek).

Use the recipes as is, or do a little experimenting by swapping out tomatoes, peppers or other ingredients to achieve different looks or flavors. And if you’re feeling really creative, use our brief list of suggestions for making your own salsa from the ground up.

Pretty ’n’ Peppery Salsa

Adapted from “The Great Salsa Book,” by Mark Miller (Ten Speed Press, 1994)

1 yellow tomato, seeded and diced

1 red tomato, seeded and diced

1 green tomato, seeded and diced

1/4 cup finely sliced mustard greens

1/4 cup baby arugula

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Thoroughly combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.

Yield: About 1 3/4 cups

Approximate nutrition per tablespoon: 8 calories, .5 grams fat (no saturated fat), no protein, 1 gram carbohydrate, no cholesterol, no dietary fiber, 25 milligrams sodium.

Spicy Peach Salsa

Adapted from “Fine Cooking Fresh” (Taunton Press, 2009)

1 1/2 cups peaches cut into small cubes

1/4 medium red onion, cut into small cubes

1/4 yellow, red or orange bell pepper, cut into small cubes

1 jalapeno or other similar-size hot chili, cored, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice or rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin or chili powder, optional

Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.

Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving (based on 5): 25 calories, no fat, 1 gram protein, 6 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 20 milligrams sodium.

Pico de Gallo

Adapted from “Fine Cooking Fresh” (Taunton Press, 2009)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped white onion

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

3 fresh serrano or 2 jalapeno chilies, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 1/2 ripe medium tomatoes, finely chopped

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Put onion, cilantro and chilies in a food processor; pulse until very finely chopped.

Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups

Approximate nutrition per tablespoon: 3 calories, no fat, no protein, .5 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, no dietary fiber, 10 milligrams sodium.

Dog’s Nose Salsa (Xni Pec)

Adapted from “Bold & Healthy Flavors,” by Steven Raichlen (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2010)

1 to 4 habanero or Scotch bonnet chilies, stemmed and finely chopped (see note)

2 medium red tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, with juices

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or more to taste

1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Taste, adding more lime juice if needed.

Note: This fiery salsa originated in the Yucatan. Xni Pec, a Mayan term, is pronounced “SHNEE-pek. For a slightly milder salsa, seed the chilies.

Yield: About 2 1/2 cups

Approximate nutrition per serving (based on 6): 24 calories, no fat, 1 gram protein, 5 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, no dietary fiber, 388 milligrams sodium.


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