The UK is a barren wasteland for Mexican food. At the super market you’ll find Old El Paso and little else, and the stuff they sell as ‘salsa’ here is almost universally wretched. It’s either canned/jarred crap the U.S. had 30 years ago or it’s horribly sweet and vinegary stuff you can get in the refrigerated aisle. For someone whose favourite cuisine is Tex-Mex and who spent some important developmental years in the American South West, neither of these is edible.
Unfortunately for me, I haven’t been very happy with most of the recipes I’ve found for salsa online either. Recipes from Europe seem to interchange ‘salsa’ with ‘sauce’ whenever they feel like it, while a number of easy American stalwarts like Alton Brown somehow think red peppers belong in salsa. Experts like Bobby Flay and Rick Bayless produce some amazing salsa variations, but they are also damned complex to recreate, especially when you just need to satisfy your own personal salsa cravings. So, for the last year I have been dicking around and coming up with my own.
It goes a little somethin’ like this:
200-250g (7-8oz) of Grape or Plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 lime (juice only)
1 large chipotle (you can exchange this for a large Jalapeno if you want a less smoky flavour – I usually err toward the chipotle version about 60% of the time)
1.5 Tblsp Ancho Chili Powder
1 Tblsp Salt (I use kosher or fine sea salt.)
1 tsp Ground Cumin
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
Total time: 20-25 minutes
Start by chopping the tomatoes to whatever thickness you like in your salsa. Me, I like some chunk, but not giant pieces. I rarely make puree’d salsas, even though those are an integral part in more traditional Mexican cuisine. When you transfer the tomatoes to a bowl, try and leave as much of the juice and seeds behind as you can. It’s not a huge deal with smaller toms, but the seeds and juice are extra tasteless liquid that gets added to the mix. If you use larger tomatoes, you need to actively chop out the liquid sacks inside the tomato or your salsa will be too runny.
Once the chopped tomatoes are in a bowl, squeeze over half the lime juice and add the salt. Next mince the garlic (mincing means to finely chop in order to distribute the flavour) and dice the shallots and add those to the bowl as well. While most salsa recipes call for onion, I prefer the milder flavour of shallots. Those of you who like really spiky onion flavour, feel free to add half a red onion instead – the recipe is flexible and can be adjusted to your tastes.
Next mince the chipotle and add that to the bowl as well. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos, and they usually come in a can with adobo sauce. In the United States these are easy to find in the Mexican section of most super markets (or you can hit up a Mercado), while in the U.K. the only market I’ve found them in was a large Waitrose. You can however, order them online and have them shipped. The nice part about these is that they come usually 6-8 in a can, and once you open the can, you can store the rest in a plastic container in the fridge where they will keep for a long time. Bacteria aren’t brave enough to attack something this spicy.
At this point add the spices to the bowl, squeeze the other half of the lime in and mix everything around and let it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes. What this does is lets the flavours have time to intermingle. After the 30 minutes, add the chopped cilantro and you are done. What you should taste is something a bit limey and really quite smoky, intercut with tomato, garlic, and a cilantro finish. The spice on this should be acceptable to most taste buds, so if you are a spice fiend, you’ll need to dial it up a notch. I will also often add another teaspoon of salt at the time I add the cilantro, but that part is up to you.
As I mentioned above, if you want less smoke, just use regular jalapenos for the chilis instead.
Since they take a lot of the same prep work, I will usually make this salsa along with the guacamole recipe found here for Mexican food nights (which could include tostadas, tacos, nachos, or fajitas).
Tomorrow I’ll toss up an easy recipe we make about every other week in our house, always to rave reviews.
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