Fresh is Best

Salsa, literally meaning “sauce” in Spanish, is every bit as versatile as that all-encompassing name suggests. Traditional renditions are as simple as chopped tomatoes and peppers with a pinch of salt, but there are no rules for this savory dance. Spicy or mild, acidic or alkaline, crisp or creamy, smooth or chunky; there’s a taste and texture to complement every meal.

In fact, modern salsas can just as easily be sweet and fruity to pair with dessert, not a vegetable in sight. The one universal rule to salsa is that no matter the ingredients, they must always be fresh. Forget about the shelf-stable stuff collecting dust on supermarket shelves; it may call itself salsa, but it sure doesn’t live up to this piquant condiment’s proud legacy.

You know you have a truly great salsa when you want to eat it with a spoon. No chips are needed to start the party with Sam’s Fresh Salsa, which is every bit as bold and flavorful as the fresh-cut produce that goes into each chilled package.

Inspired by the premier “Sam’s Fresh Salsa Blogger Recipe Challenge,” I decided to cut out the formalities and turn it into something I really could serve by the bowlful. Made from tart tomatillos, lime juice, garlic, peppers, and cilantro, the salsa verde immediately stood out to me as a versatile stand-alone snack and recipe starter. Bright, light, and refreshing with a subtle hint of jalapeño spice, it sings of summer’s bounty. The only other thing I can think of that might rival that fresh experience is gazpacho.

You see where I’m going here, right?

Gazpacho Verde is creamy and subtly sweet, closely aligned to classic Andalusian gazpacho, which is at least partially blended and surprisingly rich. Stale bread and a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil traditionally thicken this cool contender, but this Tex-Mex twist employs the luscious green flesh of ripe, buttery avocados instead.

As summer heats up, this is one instantly gratifying dish that will help you stay cool. Don’t touch that stove and put away your pans; this no-cook recipe only needs a brief blitz in the blender. For those really sweltering days, there’s no shame serving it in ice-filled glasses with a splash of vodka for a piquant Bloodless Mary.

You can get more fresh inspiration by checking out Sam’s Fresh Salsa on Facebook and Instagram, too. You can find them at ShopRite, Acme, and Safeway stores. Wish me luck in the contest!

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Supersize My Citrus

Almost 50 years ago, it was the illustrator B. Kliban that published a cartoon depicting a man being served an outlandish platter of nondescript, indecipherable mound of food. “Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head,” proclaimed the caption- rather flatly for a humorist, I might add. While that’s generally sound wisdom, especially when presented with a garbage heap of questionable edibles, there’s an exception to every rule. In this case, that exception goes by the name of pomelo.

If you’ve seen these supersized citrus before, you’d know they can grow to monstrous proportions. The average weight is somewhere between two to four pounds each, with particularly robust specimens tipping the scales at ten to twelve pounds, all told.

Don’t let their daunting size deter you. Beneath that thick rind, neatly sealed away in pockets of thin membrane, lie juicy segments that combine all the best best aspects of grapefruit flavor. Bright, floral, acidic yet somehow lacking that characteristically bitter, mouth-puckering sour taste. While they can be treated just like more common lemons and limes to make vinaigrette, marinades, lemonade, and more, their distinctive texture lends them to preparations that utilize the full flesh, rather than just the juice.

Segments separate easily into networks of pods that bear droplets of the sweet, tangy liquid. They’re firm enough to mix into salads while maintaining their structure, which is the most common way pomelos appear in Southeast Asia, where they thrive. In this case, though, they form the base of one salsa that melds all five tastes, to balance perfectly on one chip. Sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory, there’s no prepared mixture that even comes close.

Pomelo salsa is a prime appetizer to serve with tortilla chips of course, but its full potential goes way beyond the first course. Use it to top tacos, stuff burritos, or complement any range of grilled meatless proteins for a quick, satisfying meal.

Were he still around today, I would challenge Mr. Kilban to reevaluate his statement after trying these oversized fruits.

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Salsa By Any Other Name

Typically conjuring up images of a raw, spicy, tomato-based condiment (or a spirited dance step, if you’re more of an active sort), salsa by any other parameters can be somewhat difficult to swallow. Divorced from the traditional fixings entirely, nouveau renditions may rely on unexpected bases such as corn, mango, or even coconut- Not a tomato or jalapeño in sight. Are these oddballs really salsa, or just another cold relish? Where is the line drawn, and where would my latest crazy concoction fall?

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, the departure from traditional salsa is further reinforced by the herbaceous, acidic bite of chimichurri. Bold flavors define this gloriously green amalgamation; peppery, lemony, and vinegary all at once, the cooling vegetable backdrop proves to be an excellent canvas on which to paint the Argentinian marinade. It’s the Swiss army knife of toppings, perfectly suitable as a dip with chips, crowning soups and salads, or an hors d’oeuvre in and of itself. Filling the curved interior of endive leaves, a more elegant summer snack could not be served.

Thankfully, it turns out the “salsa” can be literally translated to “sauce” in Spanish, so it looks like anything goes for this expansive category. Although, I have to wonder how sauce-like my creation here is, considering the chunky texture and lack of liquid… But I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

Yield: 3 Cups; 6 Servings

Chimichurri Avocado Salsa

Chimichurri Avocado Salsa

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, the departure from traditional salsa is further reinforced by the herbaceous, acidic bite of chimichurri. Bold flavors define this gloriously green amalgamation; peppery, lemony, and vinegary all at once, the cooling vegetable backdrop proves to be an excellent canvas on which to paint the Argentinian marinade.

Ingredients

  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 2 Scallions, Roughly Chopped
  • 1 (3-Ounce) Bunch Fresh Parsley
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice Juice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3 Ripe, Firm Avocados
  • 1 1/2 Cups Finely Diced Jicama*

Instructions

  1. Pull out your food processor and toss in the garlic, scallions, parsley, and lemon zest. Pulse a few times to begin breaking down the herbs, pausing as need to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure that everything reaches to blades. With the motor running, stream in the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice, until well-combined. Add in the pepper flakes and salt, and continue processing until the herbs are extremely fine, but not completely smooth.
  2. Peel, pit, and dice the avocados, placing it in a large bowl along with the prepared jicama. Toss it with all of the herb mixture until evenly coated and distributed. Serve immediately, or chill for up to a day to allow the flavors to meld. The avocado may darken slightly when held overnight, so place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the salsa before sealing it in an air-tight container in the fridge to mitigate those effects.

Notes

*To prepare jicama, first slice it in half, pole to pole. Peel the tough brown exterior away and cut it into 1-cm slabs. Dice and toss into acidified water (1 tablespoon of vinegar in about 3 – 4 cups of water should do the trick) to prevent browning. Rinse, drain, and dry thoroughly before using.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 176Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 210mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 7gSugar: 6gProtein: 2g