Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Better Remedy

I've just had the privilege of resuming Thursday lunch dates with Craig at his office. (Can I just say that I love that man?! I am a blessed woman!) Our sweet girls made us a Greek salad and some vinaigrette, and I had to take along my #3 addiction: my fresh salsa, accompanied by the fresh tortillas that I get when we travel to South Africa. (The latter were seasoned and toasted by Morgan, to make them crispy and tasty for dipping.) For purpose of clarification, Numbers One and Two are coffee and chocolate, not necessarily in that order.

I've posted these salsa photos before on my old blog, but I thought I'd revisit them since salsa is on my mind today. The above photo has a nostalgic feel to it, as I haven't been able to use my Vita-Mix since arriving here (long story). And those who know me, also know that it's my very favorite kitchen item.

A couple of friends have recently asked how I make my salsa, so I thought I'd share publicly. (Now that I think about it, I may have blogged on this subject twice in the past -- once relatively recently. Oh, well. It won't hurt to do it again, since this blog is new.) I've been making it for about a decade and a half (I started when we only had two children and I was exploring the realm of canning), and I've been on a quest to perfect it. I was kicked into overdrive a couple of years ago after eating at Cantina Laredo. We returned home, and Craig said, "That's the best salsa I've ever had." Well, that just didn't sit well with me, so I decided to ante up in my efforts to produce a salsa from which he'd never turn back. The colloquial game was on! I must say that I seem to have achieved favorable results.

I have been known to eat chips and salsa as a meal, and I justify it by the ingredients I use. This could never be done with a jar from the store. Mine has no sugar, other than the trace amounts found in the tomatoes, sweet bell pepper, and onion. My "secret" ingredient adds protein, so I have a full meal, in my estimation, if I just sit down to a bowl of "living" salsa and some good corn chips. (OK, so corn chips are terrible for me, but I allow for some naughty things in my diet.)

When a friend first learned that we were moving to Africa, she emailed me a recipe for a Master Tonic that is reputed to eliminate even the nastiest viral or bacterial sickness. (Click here for the closest thing I've found to it on the web.) Judging by the ingredients, I can see why a bug wouldn't want to stick around long. I imagine a movie scene in which a truck explodes inside a tunnel, consuming the oxygen supply and every living thing in its range. I'm no nutritionist, but even a surface perusal of enzymes, antioxidants, phytonutrients and such will shed light on just why this stuff is supposed to be so effective.

Well, with my salsa ingredients, I'm convinced that it helps me to stay healthy. (I promise to swallow my pride and confess if I get sick while we're here; but so far, I've remained well since arriving on this continent in early August.) I've said that if it makes my nose run and my breath stink, it's just about right.

First, my rule of thumb is that there is no such thing as too much garlic. I don't think a day goes by without using it in our kitchen. It is said to be a natural antibiotic, as well as an aid to cardiovascular health, among other things. (I briefly skimmed this article, but feel free to do your own google search if you are given to decry garlic.)

A quick aside: I'm no expert on etiquette, but I'm thinking that in today's foodie culture, we are less likely to offend others with our garlic breath and more likely to prove that we know how to eat!

My book Superfoods (rather old and apparently out of print, as I couldn't find my particular copy on amazon) lists the benefits of various kinds of peppers, of which I use two in my salsa. I prefer sweet bell peppers (usually yellow, just to make it interesting) and two very hot finger peppers. (I always wondered why these are sometimes referred to as "finger" peppers, other than by their size and shape; but the 24-36-hour swelling and tingling that ensue after I've chopped a couple of these has left me with a theory.) I was intrigued by the fact that capsaicin is the chemical responsible for the runny nose and burning throat that keep us returning to our favorite Mexican restaurants, as well as what helps us to cope with pain.

Onions are another key ingredient. I had the privilege of knowing my great-grandmother (who lived to the age of 90 and was able to at least meet four of our five children). This strong woman, who outlived three husbands, also lived in era before pharmaceutical incentives for medical professionals. So from her I gleaned the idea of using onion juice to cure an ear infection and other seasonal ills, of which my older children had many. Poor unsuspecting Caelyn joyfully consumed the stinky concoction of onion juice and sugar (Mary Poppins was right.) and suffered less because of it. (Don't go making major medical decisions based on my advice, though. I can't afford a lawsuit.)

Without further ado, if you're at all interested, I'd like to tell you how I accomplish this:

You will need a blender or food processor. Be sure to only pulse -- do not turn the blender on all the way, or your fate may be the same as my friend, Cristie, who asked me why it may be that her salsa turned out pink and frothy. Also, I make sure that the tomatoes are not the first thing that I drop in. I don't want them too close to the blades. I put the "chunky" ingredients in first, with the tomatoes somewhere in the middle. (This is not represented in the top photo because I was using my Vita-Mix. However, for now I have to use my Bosch blender, which does the job differently. I don't assume that everyone owns a Vita-Mix, so I'm giving you the basic version.)

Now for the ingredients:

-1/3 - 1/2 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, cut into chunks
-1/4 red (or white or yellow) onion
-2-3 scallions, cut into chunks
-2 little hot peppers of your choice (I remove part of the seeds and veins of just one, to make it more tolerable)
-at least 3 cloves of garlic (but feel free to adhere to your own preference)
-a few handfuls (a cup or more) of grape tomatoes (I've always liked the flavor better with these than with Roma or others)
-1/2 yellow heirloom tomato (just for fun)
-a bunch of cilantro (somewhat chopped, but the blender will do the rest)
-juice of 1 lime (This is key! I wouldn't think of making salsa without this or cilantro!)
-about 1/4 C or so of black beans (my secret infusion of protein)
-cumin (absolutely necessary)
-and if you have some Mexican seasoning or chili powder, these help

I invent ways to use salsa because I can't get enough of it. Besides chips or toasted tortillas, it can be used on burgers, salad, burritos/enchiladas, black beans and rice, refried beans, crudites, and anything else that suits your fancy.

If you've followed me here from my two previous blogs, forgive me for being redundant and thank you for enduring my repetition. If you're a new visitor, thank you for reading. In either case, I'd love to hear about your homemade salsa!


  1. Can never have too much garlic or too much salsa! Looks delicious!

  2. Looks yummy!

    I'll have to try this soon!!

  3. Yummy! This sounds so good! I love fresh salsa.

  4. may I make a suggestion? don't put in the bell peppers. ;)
    (I saw your tutorial on the Totally Tutorials blog)

  5. Just last night I was saying I need to find a perfect salsa recipe. I will try this one too. I've book marked it.