When it comes to favorite summer condiments, salsa is giving traditional hot dog toppers, ketchup and mustard, a serious run for the money.
For many Americans, salsa is almost considered a basic food group, and not just as a nutritious dipper for corn tortilla chips. Packed with garden-fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables that are easy to find, it’s as terrific a topping for chicken, beef or seafood as it is a colorful mix-in for pasta, rice and salad. Plus, it requires virtually no cooking, making it the perfect dish to throw together when summer heat and humidity make you feel like melting.
Salsa — Italian and Spanish for sauce — has a rich and delicious history. Long before Spanish priest Alonso de Molina dubbed the classic combination of tomatoes and chili peppers “salsa” in 1571, it was a culinary staple with the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas. Thousands of years ago, they mixed chilies with tomatillos, tomatoes and squash seeds and ate it with lobster, fish, turkey and venison. It’s been a cornerstone of Mexican kitchens ever since.
The most popular salsa is salsa rojo, a fresh sauce made with tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions; substitute tomatillos for the red tomatoes, and add a little lime juice and cilantro, and you’ve got a classic salsa verde. But there are so many more flavor combinations the home cook can explore.
Some ideas: Grapes can bring a crostini slathered with goat cheese to life with the addition of a little onion, cherry tomato, lime juice and chopped herbs. Briny green olives mixed with toasted slivered almonds, lemon juice, orange zest and chipotle pepper are an unexpected topper for watery, light-flavored vegetables such as eggplant and zucchini. Grilled pineapple and sweet, juicy peaches, when mixed with chili, lime, red onion and spices, brighten not just fish and pork, but also give chicken a lively kick.
Adapted from Sproutedkitchen.com
2 cups seedless grapes, quartered or halved
1⁄2 red onion, diced
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons lime (or lemon) juice
1 teaspoon chopped oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Dash of ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1⁄2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered or halved
Gently toss grapes, onion, parsley, lime juice and oregano together in a medium bowl. Add salt, pepper, vinegar and cayenne pepper; adjust seasonings as needed. Add tomatoes just before serving.
CHARRED CORN AND AVOCADO SALSA
From The Daily Meal
2 ears corn
2 cups diced avocado
Juice from 1 lime
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1. Over a high flame on an outdoor grill, char the ears of corn until lightly blackened, about 4 minutes a side.
2. Cut corn away from the cob using a sharp knife and plenty of caution.
3. In a medium bowl, combine corn, avocado, lime juice, cilantro, green onion and olive oil.
4. Add sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Set aside until ready to serve.
CASTELVETRANO OLIVE-ALMOND SALSA
From “Around the Fire” by Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez Denton (Ten Speed Press)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted Castelvetrano olives or any mild green olives
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted slivered almonds
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon crushed chipotle chili flakes or chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
In small bowl, combine oil, olives, almonds, lemon juice, orange zest, oregano, chipotle and salt. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Let sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour before serving. Serve with grilled vegetables.
SPICY PEACH SALSA
From “The Love & Lemons Cookbook: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking” by Jeanine Donofrio (Avery)
4 ripe peaches, diced
1⁄2 teaspoon minced ginger
2 Thai chilies, diced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, or more to taste, plus a little zest
1⁄2 to 1⁄3 cup chopped cilantro
1⁄4 cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
Generous pinches of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In small bowl, combine peaches, ginger, chilies, lime juice, cilantro, red onion and garlic. Mix well.
2. Add salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Let sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour before serving.
GRILLED PINEAPPLE SALSA
From “Weber’s New American Barbecue: A Modern Spin on the Classics” by Jamie Purviance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
1 medium pineapple, peel removed
1 tablespoon oil
1⁄4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
1. Prepare grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat.
2. Cut pineapple crosswise into 6 (1⁄2-inch-thick) slices (don’t cut out the core). Brush pineapple slices on both sides with oil.
3. Grill pineapple slices over direct medium-high heat, with lid closed, until lightly charred and softened, 5 to 8 minutes, turning once. Remove from grill, cut out the core and discard.
4. Coarsely chop pineapple, and place in a medium bowl. Add onion, lime juice, cilantro, salt and cumin to pineapple and stir until evenly combined.