by Ed Buffaloe
Salsa is an important member of the second of the three major food groups
in Texas -- Down-Home, Tex-Mex, and Barbeque -- but is also popular in lesser-known parts of the world (i.e., outside of Texas). Commonly eaten as
an appetizer with corn chips, or when consuming beer, it can also be poured over eggs or used to season tacos, enchiladas, gorditas, fajitas, beans & rice--virtually anything.
Why do people eat salsa? Number One: It tastes good. Number Two: It’s very
good for you -- uncooked salsa is chock-full of vitamin C and live enzymes. Number Three: It makes you feel good -- salsa tricks your body into thinking it’s in pain, which
triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are natural pain killers, neurotransmitters, that make you feel good naturally. They are normally released
during strenuous exercise, producing what is known as the “runner’s high.” You can get a perfectly natural sense of euphoria with almost no effort by eating hot salsa.
There are as many different ways of making salsa as there are people, and the first
rule of salsa-making is you must experiment. My friends John Herndon and John Campion taught me the basics, but I soon deviated from their recipes and developed my own distinctive style.
Ingredients to make one quart of Ed’s Texas Salsa:
6-8 fresh Roma tomatos
4 fresh Jalapeņo peppers
1 small to medium Poblano pepper
1 Lime (juice only)
1/2 Orange or Tangerine (juice only)
1/4 to 1/2 bunch Cilantro
1 Bunch small green onions
1 Carrot (optional)
1 Habanero pepper (optional)
1 or 2 Banana peppers (optional)
Tools: Blender, knife, food processor
Put one jalapeņo pepper (plus one habanero, banana pepper, etc., if desired) and three tomatos in a blender, along with the lime and orange juice, and blend on the
lowest setting. Then add the cilantro (I prefer to separate the leaves from the stems, but some people don’t bother), sufficient tomatos to fill the blender 2/3’s full, and finish
blending. Put the remaining peppers and tomatos in a hand-operated food processor and cut them up coarsely, and add them to the mix. (If you don’t have a hand
operated food processor, you can use a knife to dice them by hand, or you can just blend them like the rest.) Grate the carrot and chop the onions finely (including the
green portion) and add them at the end.
I usually make two quarts at a time (one for me, and one to give away) but I have
written the recipe to make one quart because that is about how much you can fit in the average blender. In my opinion, salsa is always best raw. You should eat it in a
couple or three days, while it’s still “crisp.” There are some types of salsa that require cooking, but I much prefer fresh salsa.
When I first started making salsa I used canned tomatos, but one summer I grew my
own and quickly realized that fresh tomatos were the only way to go. I try to find the ripest, juciest tomatos possible. If the tomatos aren’t good, forget it.
I like my salsa piquant (hot). Some of my friends will add 4, 6, or 8 peppers, but I
usually keep it down to 2 or 3 Jalapeņos per quart. Most of them are hot, but occasionally I get mild ones. If the salsa is too mild, I don’t hesitate to buy peppers
from a different source (or pick some from my garden) and chop them up to add to the mix. A single habanero or serrano will do the trick quite nicely. Salsa that is too
mild defeats the purpose of salsa.
I find Poblano peppers add a certain sweet taste that gives my salsa a distinctive and
subtle flavor. When I have them fresh from my garden, I also add Banana peppers or Anaheim peppers. Habaneros have a wonderful sweet flavor, but they are too hot for
some people (after the salsa sits for a day or two they don’t seem quite so hot).
Lime juice is essential. Orange or tangerine juice adds a subtle sweetness, and
seems to keep salsa from giving people heartburn, though it is not a common ingredient.
Cilantro is essential. It is easy to add too little and difficult to add too much. In some
parts of the world cilantro can be hard to find -- Chinese Parsley is cilantro by another name. I can’t recommend using dried cilantro -- you might as well add dirt.
Carrots are for color and texture as much as anything, but are also very good for you.
I grate rather than blend them.
I use green onions, but many people prefer large white onions or sweet yellow onions.
Sometimes a white onion can be hotter than the Jalapeņos. I chop the onions rather than blending them because I like the texture. Some people don’t, so they just blend the whole mess.
Variant: When I can’t find jalapeņos, I use an habanero, a serrano, and a poblano
pepper, or whatever else I can find. Experiment!