Did you know I lived in Mexico for a while? Well I did.
It was a phenomenal time, and I wish I could have stayed longer. When I was there I learned a lot about real Mexican cuisine, especially specific to the region where I resided. Foods I learned and now love and crave include pozole (corn and pork soup with fresh ingredients on top), tinga (spicy flank steak), molletes (Portuguese style roll with beans and cheese), elote (corn on a stick, a late night favorite), tamales, chilaquiles and lechera (condensed milk) on strawberries. Yum. I have also been on a never-ending quest for the best corn tortillas the US has to offer. I’m not sure great tortillas exist in this country and may just have to go to Mexico and smuggle some back soon. Also, there was this dish I had one time in Aguascalientes – “crepas de rajas”. It was a takeout dish of crepes rolled around some mild green peppers and covered in a creamy spicy white sauce. I have yet to find a recipe or anything similar, unfortunately. Its one of those things that has eluded me for years!
Anyway, on to the salsa. In the US, “salsa” generally implies a somewhat chunky, slightly spicy tomato based sauce to be consumed almost exclusively with tortilla chips or served with our version of tacos, ground beef flavored with an orange spice packet, served in crunchy shells (which for the record I did not see once in Mexico). In Mexico, “salsa” simply means sauce and in my experience was rarely served the way it is here. Actually the few times I was offered “salsa” it was in reference to this, and was served as a condiment to be sprinkled over potato chips at a pool hall, popcorn at a friend’s house or tacos (soft corn tortilla with chopped pork, cilantro, onion and a wedge of lime) from a late-night taco stand.
So really, I believe that what I call salsa isn’t Mexican food. It’s origins may be of Mexican descent but like many foods it has evolved into a decidedly American dish with multiple variations. Despite history, though, I think it’s pretty delicious and enjoy experimenting with new types. Here are a few of my recent favorite “salsas”:
Fresh Chunky Salsa with Beans & Corn
I started with a few of ears of leftover corn (grilled the night before for dinner), some of the green onions and tomatoes from our CSA share, the juice of one lime and a couple of cloves of garlic.
I minced the garlic, roughly chopped the tomato and onion, cut the corn from the cobs and tossed it all over a can of black beans (rinsed). Squeeze the lime juice over it all, throw in a pinch of salt and voila, salsa. Bring this to the next picnic you attend and I promise your bowl will come home empty!
Fresh Green Salsa
For this salsa, I used my food processor. (Best kitchen appliance I own, right up there with my stand mixer. I am lucky to have generous family members who gifted both of these to me!) You could also use a blender, or just chop finely by hand.
Into the magical machine went:
About 8 tomatillos, papery outer skins removed, rinsed and halved.
The greens from 4 large onions (equivalent of 8-10 grocery store green onions)
A LOT of cilantro, this day it was from our generous neighbor (about 2 bunches, in grocery store equivalents, simply rinse and remove the bottom of the stems, then throw the whole bunch in stems and all)
I gave this a few whirls in the processor and realized it was missing a little something. So I added in some garlic and lime for kick and acidity.
Another few pulses and that’s it!
Now to eat all this fresh goodness that only took 10 minutes to whip up, you could just use a spoon (my sister and I have been known to eat bowls of the corn-bean variety, its substantial enough to serve as a delicious and refreshing summer lunch), or you could go buy some chips at the grocery store. We like these. Until just now I never knew they were made by Frito Lay! We just get them because they are only $2!
OR you could make your own chips (my preference). I use whatever poor substitute for corn tortillas I happen to have on hand. Sorry, Mission, your tortillas just don’t compare to the real thing. But, they will do for this application.
I use a pizza cutter to slice a stack or 3 or 4 tortillas at a time into 6 pieces, just like cutting a pie. Then I lay each piece flat on a cookie sheet (try not to overlap too much) and mist with olive oil. I use this to mist. LOVE this thing. You could also use aerosol spray oil but I don’t think the result would be as yummy. Or you could get one of these, I think they carry them at some big-box stores. Anyway, give those chips a good mist of oil, don’t drench them but make sure they each got a shot. Then lightly sprinkle with sea, kosher or another large salt. Into the oven they go, at 450 degrees for about 5-8 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they go from perfectly browned to disturbingly blackened in a matter of what seems like seconds.
But hopefully you will end up with this:
And have the perfectly salty, not too greasy or calorie laden vehicle for your fresh salsa!