Saturday, September 18, 2010

Things to do (and not do) with produce – Part three of three

September 18th, 2010

The final chapter of “Things to do (and not do) with produce has to do with my quest to find the perfect salsa recipe. The sad thing is that, roughly 15 years ago, I DID have the perfect salsa recipe. My girlfriend at the time and I had this favorite Mexican restaurant in San Diego. They had the most AMAZING salsa!! Through trial and error (they were frustratingly tightlipped about the ingredients), I was able to replicate their salsa pretty damn well. Success!! Or as a friend of mine says, “Ka-ching!”
Fast forward 17 years. I have moved 6 times since the discovery of this great, tongue-tantalizing, spicy perfection and somewhere between 1995 and now the scrap of paper I wrote the ingredients and directions on vanished. I did not make it often enough to have even committed a bit of it to memory. And let’s face it; I’m the kind of person who is hard pressed to remember what I ate 4 hours ago.
So, have I mentioned I’m still unemployed? I have a lot of spare time on my hands, so I decided that perhaps I could somehow find, via Google, a recipe that would jog my memory. Didn’t happen. I’m at a total loss. Did I use fresh chili peppers, dried peppers, or roast them myself. What kind of chilies did I use? Ancho? Fresno? Pasilla? Serrano? Jalapeno? Arbol? Chipotle? Guajillo? New Mexico? I have no recollection. I do know it was not a tomatillo based recipe, so that narrowed the endless possibilities somewhat. I’m also fairly certain it was not a “chunky” salsa, but rather the pureed texture that one finds on the table with their chips at Mexican restaurants. That still leaves it pretty wide open, doesn’t it? Damn.
We have a cookbook entitled “Salsas.” I decided it might be fun to, ala Julie Powell, cook one a day. Let me just say, I, in no way took on the arduous task she had undertaken. First, my book, despite its title, is mostly recipes for food one would eat salsa on. If I made one salsa a day, I would be done in a month. Second, unlike Julie Powell, I have no desire to rise to the challenge of cooking everything in the book. Frankly, there are some recipes that just don’t appeal to me at all (I really don’t want pickled peppers in my salsa).
August 25, 2010. Day 86 of my unemployment. The recipe? Salsa Cruda. This is your basic chopped up tomatoes and jalapenos kind of salsa. Nice with chips. This day was Sarita’s first day back to work (she’s a teacher and gets summer off), which may have added to my boredom. I had gotten used to her being around all day. The salsa came out well and I had a bowl of chips and salsa and a glass of wine waiting for her when she got home. She declared this salsa her favorite.
Salsa Cruda
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes (garden fresh is best. Use canned if you can't get ones you know were picked ripe. Generally grocery store bought tomatoes are flavorless).

1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, including the green top

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chili pepper (I used Serrano)

1/4 cup finely chopped sweet green pepper

2 Tbsp (or more, I think I used about a quarter cup) finely chopped cilantro

Salt to taste

Throw it all together and let set for at least 30 minutes

(variation - add half of an avocado, finely chopped, substitute red onion for the green onion and add 1/4 finely chopped parsley)

August 26, Day 87 of my unemployment. I had an interview for an entry level social worker position in a neighboring county. I wasn’t feeling overly optimistic based on my experience in the county 78 miles away, but what the heck. I could get lucky. I puttered around the house a bit in the morning and then it was time to leave. I like to leave myself lots of time for interviews since getting lost is one of my strong suits (I am very directionally challenged). I locked up the house and remembered that I had forgotten something I needed. I can’t remember at this time what I forgot, but apparently it was important. So, I unlocked the house door, leaving the keys in the lock, and retrieved the forgotten item. On my way back out, the containers of peach cordial Sarita and I are making caught my eye. When you make cordial, you are supposed to shake it every day. So, I stopped to give the 3 jars, sun tree container, and Costco popcorn container filled with fruit and vodka a shake. Oops. Damn it, damn it, damn it! I picked up two of the jars and had them too close to each other when I shook. One jar hit the other and . . . well, I’m sure you figured this one out. Peach liqueur all over my pants, the cabinet and the floor mixed with glass shards. So much for the extra time I had allowed myself. I cleaned up the glass and syrupy alcohol mess so the cats wouldn’t get into it and went upstairs to see if I had another pair of pants that fit me (did I mention I’ve gained 7 pounds since losing my job on top of the 23 pounds I gained while working the temp job I got after losing my career?)
I managed to arrive at the interview right on time. It was pretty unremarkable for the most part. The questions were easy (I’ve written questions like that for interviews I’ve conducted.) The part that threw me was that the last question was a role play. I HATE ROLE PLAYING! It was one of the things about graduate school for my MSW that I despised, I despised it in the touchy feely social worker trainings I had to attend and I especially hated it in the interview. (Note: I did not get the job. I did role play for them, but probably not well.)
Fruit Liqueur – by Merrie Wales
3 Cups of vodka
1 cup of simple syrup (1 cup of sugar & 1 cup of water heated until sugar melts)
Pour vodka and cooled simple syrup into a glass gallon jar
Add 2 cups or more of fruit with skin and all (crush a little) the more fruit the richer the flavor (pit bigger fruit first such as apricots & peaches) can make liqueur a little bitter
Put lid on jar and put in dry cool area. (Pantry or closet work well)
Turn or shake daily for 1-2 months
Taste, if flavor is rich enough for your taste, strain and store in container (glass jars work well) and store somewhere cool. If not rich enough for you just leave it alone and taste it every so often. No shaking or turning is needed after the first month.
You can use the fruit for baking or for sauces (cherries make a good cherries jubilee sauce).  I have modified this by adding, vanilla, almond extract, anything in combination with the fruit you use that sounds good to you.
I have cherry, apricot, peach, nectarine, plum, and blackberry started this year.  I didn’t make any strawberry nor blueberry.
*Note: Have tried expensive and cheap vodka- and found that it doesn't matter so buy the cheapest you can find.

When I got back home I changed, mopped up the sticky mess in the kitchen, and got down to Salsa of the day – day two. A couple of my Facebook friends had sent me recipes in response to my posting about making salsas, so I decided to try them out. I did two recipes because one seemed to be good for dipping chips and the other was recommended as a sauce for cooking. Tasty, thanks Carmen and Vickie.
Carmen McNearny’s Salsa
Try this....take some onions, tomatoes and japs and BURN them in a cast iron skillet. I really mean BURN. Tomatoes & japs whole, onions cut into chunks. Put them in a processor til pureed. Season with salt and garlic. When you're ready to eat it mix it with a nice amount of sour cream. So so good over any kind of meat or grilled veggies.
Sarita and I observed that it may be better with more salt than I used and also some lime juice.
Vickie Carr’s Salsa Verde
Sauté one chopped onion till transparent.
Add one (or more to taste) chopped garlic clove and sauté till fragrant.
Peel and loosely chop one pound of tomatillos
Remove the stems from a bunch of cilantro.
Put both in food processor and pulse
Add juice from two limes
Add onions and garlic
Now for the secret ingredient:
Take out ¼ of the liquid and mix with two tablespoons of Adobo Paste (if you can’t find it in the store go to
Then add to salsa. Stir to mix. Enjoy.

The salsa for August 27th, was an Avocado Salsa Cruda. The recipe in the book really wasn’t that memorable. I suggest using the Salsa Cruda recipe above and invoke the “variation” at the end if you like avocados in your salsa.
On August 30th, I took a break from salsa and found a recipe to put our explosion of lemon cucumber to good use – Spicy Lemon Cucumber Pickles. OH MY GOD, they were disgusting!!! Needless to say, not recipe post for this one and I’m back to doing what I do well – Salsa! The next recipe was for a tomatillo salsa. It was pretty good, Sarita loved it, but I think it could be improved upon somehow.
Tomatillo Salsa
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped jalapenos
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 pound tomatillos, chopped
Salt to taste

Mix it all up, let sit for a half hour or so.

I tried a few more recipes, but had to take a break. 1) Ran out of ripe tomatoes in the garden. 2) When you eat hot chilies every day, and that is NOT your normal routine, your body tends to complain about it. I never did find the perfect recipe to replace my long lost one, but I have not given up hope. I noticed some tomatoes ripening, and we’ve given our digestive system a break, so I should be posting more recipes soon. Stay tuned.
Cooked Jalapeno Salsa
Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet.
Add 3/4 cup chopped japs, 2 garlic cloves, half a small chopped onion.
Saute until the onion is soft, but not brown.
Add 3 cups peeled and seeded, chopped tomatoes and cook about 5 minutes.
Add 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon green olives (weird, I know), and salt.
Cook for another 3-5 minutes.
Let it stand at least 30 mintes.
Stir well before serving.
Red Chile Chipotle Salsa
Combine 4 chipotle chiles in one cup boiling water for at least 30 minutes. Remove the stems and chop.
In a non-aluminum saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil and sauté ¾ a cup of diced onion, ¾ cup diced green bell pepper, and 3 diced jalapenos until the onion is slightly tender (1-2 minutes). Add the chiles, soaking water, 2 cups peeled, diced ripe tomatoes (or 1 pound can peeled tomatoes if you can’t find fresh tomatoes), and ½ teaspoon dried oregano. Blend together and remove from heat after a couple of minutes. Process briefly in a blender or food processor until the ingredients are well mixed. You can do this chunky (less processing) or more like a sauce (pureed).

I made this one and think it needs garlic and cilantro.

Tomatillo and Chile Chipotle Salsa

Combine 4 chipotle chiles in 1 cup boiling water in a non-aluminum bowl and soak for an hour. Drain. Remove the stems. Chop finely.
In a non-aluminum saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter and sauté 2 minced garlic cloves and the chiles until they are soft, 1-3 minutes. Combine the chile and garlic mixture, ½ cup diced onion and ¾ pounds tomatillos in a food processor or blender until just mixed, but still chunky. Stir well before serving.

This one wasn’t a favorite, but has potential.


  1. Blogger can be like that ... have you tried highlighting the entire text area and changing it to a different font (or size), then changing it back? That *sometimes* seems to work. Good luck!

    Oh, and put some pictures in your blog posts! For example, turn your recipes into tutorials, with step-by-step how-to's!

  2. Three hours it took me to fix the formatting. Gads! I hate these editors sometimes. Tana, how do you make hyperlinks clickable and how do you put pictures in the blogs? thanks.

  3. I think I'm going to try the one with avocado. Let you know how it comes out. Thanks.

  4. Excellent, I hope it works well for you. I'll be resuming salsa making soon.

  5. I just have to say that the BEST part of the "Salsa of the Day" stint was that for a week and a half, every day when I came home from work, there was a glass of wine and some chips and salsa waiting for me (Not so bad HAVING a wife for once as opposed to BEING the wife!). I have to say my very FAVORITE was salsa number one, Salsa Cruda and my next fav was the tomatilla salsa. I also liked the cooked one. They all had something special about them. I have to admit that I may have been one of the two deciding factors that led to the end of the "Salsa of the day" stint (or rather I should say my barking digestive tract was). The other being that our tomato vines decided to stop producing...and Folks, I must say, IF THEY AREN'T HOME GROWN TOMATOES GOING INTO THE SALSAS, WHY BOTHER???
    Thanks, Baby, I love you AND your salsas!!

  6. Sarita, thanks so much for the review on the salsa. I love you too.