Faithful reader Elizabeth is keen on making salsa, and I’m in full support of her endeavors.

At last count, I had upwards of three dozen salsa recipes, some of which are just plain weird.  I like my salsa quick, simple, and uncooked–salsa fresca or salsa cruda, and so I’m going to begin with that.

Salsa fresca

This salsa’s especially good in the summer, when you can get big, fat, juicy tomatoes, still warm from the sun and covered with soil.  It goes well on pretty much everything:  fish, chicken, tacos and quesadillas or plain ol’ tostadas (of course).  You can even use it to dress a salad or sauce a pasta.

If you can’t get good tomatoes–in the winter and spring, both of which seem to be upon us–you can liven things up with a little balsamic vinegar.  That’s not a traditional ingredient, of course, but it does breathe some life into otherwise boring tomatoes.

If you want, make it with half yellow and half red tomatoes.  That looks really nice.

1 1/4 lbs. tomatoes, chopped fine

1/2 small white or red (not yellow, traditionally) onion, minced and rinsed

2 or 3 jalapeños (more if you’re intrepid or from Texas), minced (take out the seeds and white membranous ribs if you want a milder sauce–wear gloves and for God’s sake don’t touch your eyes)

1/4 c. finely chopped cilantro (more or less, depending on how well you like cilantro)*

1 or 2 tsp.  fresh lime juice, rice vinegar, or balsamic vinegar

salt to taste–probably about 1/2 tsp.

*–Cilantro goes by many names, “coriander” and “Chinese parsley” among them.  Unlike Italian parsley, the stems are tender and tasty, so don’t hesitate to include them in with the finely chopped leaves.

Stir it all together and let it sit for about fifteen minutes before you use it.  Ideally, you’ll make it and use it on the same day, although it will keep nicely in the refrigerator for most of a day.

The salt draws the juice out of the tomatoes, so be sure not to omit it.

Salsa verde cruda

Man, I love green salsa.  This one’s made with tomatillos, which took me a long time to warm up to–I think because I wasn’t quite sure what the heck they were (turns out that they’re not a variety of tomato; they’re closely related to cape gooseberries, of all things).  Like the above salsa, it goes well with practically everything–including vegetables (try it with potatoes).

1 lb. fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed well (or you can use two 13 oz. cans, drained)

as many jalapeños as you like (probably 2-5), seeded if you want, and chopped

1/2 white onion, chopped and rinsed

2 or 3 garlic cloves, chopped fine

salt to taste (probably 1/2 tsp. or so)

1/4 c. (more or less) fresh cilantro, chopped

water as needed–probably between 1/4 and 1/2 c.

If you’re using fresh tomatillos, roast them until they get dark and blistery (or you can simmer them for about ten minutes.  Drain ’em before going on to the  next step).

Put them in a blender or food processor.  Except for the water, add everything else and give it all a good zap until it’s kind of a coarse purée.  Pour it all into a bowl and add enough water to bring it to the consistency you want.  Taste it and tweak the seasoning however you see fit.  Let it sit for at least half an hour before you use it.

It’s best fresh, but it will keep for a few days in your icebox.

Salsa ranchera

This one’s cooked.  I generally prefer uncooked salsas, but it’s nice with eggs (think huevos rancheros), tortilla chips, chilaquiles, enchiladas, fish, chicken . . . .  If your tomatoes are really meaty (versus juicy), you can thin the sauce with a bit of water.  No harm in that.

2 lbs.  tomatoes, roasted

1 or 2 jalapeños (you know the drill by now–seed and rib them if you want, use however many you want, blah blah)

1/2 white onion, chopped coarse

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed

1 Tbsp. oil

salt to taste–at least 1/2 tsp.

water

First thing you need to do is roast your tomatoes.  Don’t go wiggin’; it’s easy (Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin tells us that anyone can cook, but you must be born knowing how to roast–but he was referring to big joints of meat and partridges and stuff like that.  Tomatoes are a walk in the park).

Fire up your broiler and line a baking sheet with some foil.  Put the tomatoes there and clap ’em under the broiler.  Two or three inches from the heat is good (probably your highest rack position).  Turn ’em over after a few minutes (the first side ought to be nice and charred); it’ll probably take longer if you’re using an electric oven.  Let the other side go for another few minutes–nice and charred, again–and then put them in a bowl, let them cool, and then cut out the cores out and peel ’em over the bowl (you want to save the juice).  Done.

Okay, now put the tomatoes and their juice, the jalapeños (however many you’ve decided to use), onion, and garlic into your blender or processor and give it a good run until it’s a slightly chunky purée (you want it to have some texture).

Take a good, heavy skillet and get it nice and hot.  Add the oil, let it get hot, and then add a few drops of the salsa to the skillet.  If it sizzles and pops right away, you’re good to go; dump in the rest of the salsa.  If not, let the oil get hotter and try again.

Stir it around in the hot skillet for ten or fifteen minutes–until it gets thick and dark and starts to stick to the pan.  Add the salt, adjust the consistency with some water, take it off the heat, and that’s it.

It’ll keep for almost a week in your reefer, and freezes pretty well–about three months.

If you’re keen on chipotles (as I am, and if I ever hear you say “chee-pole-tay,” I’ll kick you in the shins) add one or two along with their adobo to the tomatoes when you simmer them; pluck them out once the sauce is cooked.  If you’re really daring–or from Texas–add an habañero, slit down the middle, to the simmering tomatoes.  Again, yank it out before serving.

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