Ingredients: tomatoes (red & orange), apricot, red onion, cilantro, lime, harissa (hot sauce)
Served with: tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, creme fraiche
I love salsa. That’s why I never buy it. Homemade salsa fresca is a feast for the senses, known to inspire phrases like “feast for the senses.” It’s especially nice on a hot summer day, when tomatoes are in season. Preparing it takes a fair amount of knifework, but the end result is totally worthwhile. I often sharpen my kitchen knife for the occasion, which makes the whole process a lot of fun.
Now, I know salsa means “sauce” in Spanish, but that’s where bottled salsa goes wrong. The stuff in jars is just too saucy and heavy for my liking. I don’t want marinara on my chips. Good salsa should be crisp and refreshing, more like a salad than a sauce. That texture is only possible when the tomatoes and onions are fresh off the cutting board. Prolonged sitting turns it all to mush. Also, cilantro is notorious for fading in flavor.
Speaking of cilantro, did you know that humans are genetically predisposed to either love or hate it? Those who hate it describe the taste as “soapy,” which sounds awful indeed. My girlfriend won’t go near it (so now you know who ate that entire plate of nachos). To me it tastes bright green, slightly sweet, and quintessentially fresh. When applied to Mexican or Thai cuisine, my enjoyment instantly doubles. I also like it on Indian food, but it’s not necessary there. At any rate, I wouldn’t even think of making salsa without cilantro. Seriously, I’d sooner skip the tomatoes.
For a spicy kick, I used harissa, which is a North African chili paste. It turned out okay, but a little too warm in character. I will chop some actual chilis next time.
Fruit is not something I eat too often, but I love adding it to salsa. There’s logic to this! When tomato, red onion, and cilantro are juxtaposed with fruit, an interesting thing happens: your palate begins to notice the sweetness in those ingredients. It’s a neat cognitive moment where you think, subconsciously, “Oh wow! Onions are fruity!” I chose apricots for the task this time, though I have had success in the past with persimmons and ground-cherries. Of course, mango is probably the most traditional fruit for salsa. We just don’t have them in the supermarket too often.
I served the salsa fresca scattered over corn chips with melted cheddar cheese and a couple small dollops of creme fraiche, which is similar to sour cream. It was awesome. I licked the plate afterward, then skipped dinner.