Born and raised in southern Arizona, I developed a sense of what is considered good Mexican food at an early age. My mother, especially, was important in this development as she was one of the finest Mexican cooks I had ever known. Her keen sense of flavors and textures enabled us to eat very well. She also allowed us to assist her in making many meals and learning her secrets as it was her hope that her three sons would always have the ability to cook for themselves.
I now live in NYC and have had some trouble finding what I consider to be adequate Mexican food and, in particular, the lack of knowledge in the preparation of what is commonly known as salsa. There have been a couple of instances where I wasn’t completely disappointed, but overall there hasn’t seemed to be a restaurant that has gotten it “just right”. Because of this lack of satisfaction I have begun making my own salsas in order to satisfy my particular palette. It’s not that the salsas I have tried here are all that terrible, but needless to say, they are lacking that special touch. I would like to share an example of a simple salsa that is extremely easy to make and also very satisfying. It can be toned down for the faint of heart or made extra spicy for those that enjoy sweating a bit while they snack.
First, make sure to get the freshest ingredients possible. This recipe will make about 1 pint of salsa and the following ingredients are needed…
1. 4 ripened tomatoes. Make sure they are red, shiny and soft to the touch, though not squishy. Slightly squeeze the tomato to make sure it is not too firm or too soft. Your fingers shouldn’t leave any permanent indentations or else the tomato is overly ripe.
2. About 3 tablespoons of minced garlic.
3. About ½ cup of chopped white onion
4. 1 large or two small green chilies
5. 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice
6. 2 teaspoons of salt
7. 1 teaspoon of sugar
You will begin by “shocking” the tomatoes. This is a process that doesn’t cook the tomato but merely helps to separate the skin from the body. Boil a large pot of water and also set aside a large bowl of ice water. You merely drop the tomato in the boiling water for about 10 seconds, remove it and place it directly in the ice water for another 10-20 seconds. After this process you should be able to easily remove the skin from the tomato. You can then dice the tomato, throw it into a large bowl with the garlic, onion, lime juice, salt and sugar. Stir for a few minutes and set aside.
This next step is the most complicated but will ensure a tasty salsa. You will need to roast the green chilies either on a stove burner, in the broiler part of your oven or in a toaster oven using a very high heat. You will blacken the skin of the chile which will allow you to easily remove this skin, enhances the natural flavors of the chile and softens the flesh. The roasting process can take anywhere from a few to about 15 minutes depending on the method. Placing the chile (on a skewer) over a direct flame is the quickest way to char the skin. Though using the broiler or toaster oven is probably the safest. Either way, make sure to turn the chilies routinely in order to char it evenly.
You will always want let them cool for about 30 minutes as they will be steaming hot on the inside. After they are cooled they skin is easily pulled from the flesh. Whatever you do though, do not rinse the chile in water as this will remove the natural oils that are full of flavor. You will then make one long slice down the side and remove as many of the seeds as possible. The seeds are extremely spicy so the more you leave in the spicier the salsa will be. After you have diced the cooled and cleaned chilies you can then mix them into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
The salsa will be ready to eat right away, though it is best to let it sit overnight in order to bring out the best of its flavors. Once it is ready you can grab your favorite tortilla chips and enjoy. You can also use it to enhance any Mexican style dish by using it as a topping or mixing it into rice or beans. Whatever you decide, you will be sure to come back for more.