However you slice and dice it, salsa is a wonderful condiment
Story by Alain Bossé
Photography Steve Smith/Visionfire
Some like it hot and spicy; some prefer mild and fruity. Some like it on corn chips while some prefer it with a warm tortilla. Some like it with nachos, and some couldn’t imagine a fajita without it. Whatever your preference most people will agree that salsa is a satisfying snack.
The history of salsa in North and Central America can be traced back to the Incas and the Aztecs. When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico somewhere between 1519 and 1521, they encountered tomatoes for the first time. It’s believed that this is when salsa began to migrate into other cultures.
Salsa in our part of the world is loosely defined as any type of spicy tomato sauce. The salsa that we know and love today made its first appearance in Texas in 1947 when David and Margaret Pace began to bottle salsa for the commercial market.
I may be biased, but I don’t think there is a store-bought salsa that can rival our homemade versions. Making and bottling salsa is what kicks off canning season in our home. We load it up with lots of tomatoes, several types of peppers, lots of tomato sauce, a bit of sugar to counteract the acidity, and of course we toss in a few secret ingredients. We will easily go through two dozen jars of salsa before the next canning season rolls around.
If you’re only using salsa as a dip for your nacho chips, you’re really missing out. Salsa is the perfect accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes.
And if you’re limiting your salsa to a tomato-based recipe I hope you’ll let us broaden your horizons.
We may be taking a few liberties with the word “salsa” as we’re focusing less on tomato as the main ingredient and more on a combination of finely-diced foods that work together to create something extremely fresh and appealing. Trust us on this!
Summertime salsas are an absolute favourite in our house; they are the perfect accompaniment to fish and chicken. We tend to make our summertime salsas with a fruit base—in particular, we enjoy pairing strawberries with cilantro and balsamic vinegar. This flavour combination takes white fish to another level. It also works extremely well with chicken and pork. None of these three proteins carries a tremendous amount of flavour on their own; they rely on other ingredients to prop them up. The freshness of a fresh fruit summer salsa is ideal.
The corn and black bean salsa that we’re featuring is a nice change from the traditional salsa, although we do tend to serve this in a traditional way with crispy tortilla chips.
I should point out that while we’re featuring the strawberry salsa with fish, it is perfectly acceptable to eat this—or any other salsa—with tortilla chips, too.
How much heat you add to your salsa is entirely a matter of personal preference. The fruit salsas in particular do exceptionally well because the sweetness of the fruit will balance out the heat from either hot sauce or jalapeno peppers.
As always we’ve provided recipes below, but building salsa is a fun way for anyone to experiment in the kitchen. Really, it comes down to your base ingredient, something to give a bit of sharpness; like red or green onion, a bit of oil balanced out by a bit of citrus, some fresh herbs such as cilantro or mint, and a bit of heat.
The combinations are absolutely endless. Keep in mind while recipes are great to use as guidelines, cooking comes from the heart. Be adventurous, experiment, don’t be scared to try new ingredients or new methods of preparation. One failed recipe is not the end of the world. There will always be takeout pizza.