Shortly before our family made the move from Northern Virginia to Lancaster County last fall, some wonderful friends, Mark and Paula, had us over for a farewell dinner of sorts. While Paula is world-famous for her fabulous pasta with Vodka Sauce (a recipe that I may be able to coax out of her one day and share with all of you), that evening she had made fantastic quesadillas with salsa and guacamole.
For some reason the memory of that salsa stuck with me for several days afterwards; I was craving it, wishing I had just a spoonful of it to put on everything I ate. Why was obsessing over salsa? Granted, I did have a newborn so I was really sleep-deprived and suffering from serious bouts of the “nursing-munchies”, but I knew there was something deeper.
Then it hit me: her salsa was fresh, and hence, incomparable to anything I got off the shelf at the grocery store.
See, I just never bothered to make my own salsa. Call me silly, but I was one of the millions out there who thought that the jarred stuff wasn’t really much different than what I could make myself. Wow, was I wrong. And I simply can’t go back now. I haven’t had a bottle of store-bought salsa in my fridge since that fateful dinner at Paula’s house ten months ago.
Perhaps you’ve been making your own salsa for years, so this plea may fall on some deaf ears, but if fresh salsa-making is new to you, I implore you to give it a try. It will take you about 10 minutes to chop everything up, and you can make it for less than half the cost of what you pay in the grocery store for one of those sub-standard jars. Plus, "fresh" is always better for you.
Below, is my personal salsa recipe. Like I said, I’m a newbie at this so the list of ingredients isn’t going to blow your mind with creativity, but for some of you, it might be a good starting point.
Mai’s Better-than-Jarred Fresh Salsa
2 cups seeded and chopped fresh tomatoes (Don’t go trying to sneak canned tomatoes in here. This is “fresh” salsa so all the ingredients need to be “fresh”. Last week when I did my bi-monthly salsa-making, I added some green tomatoes from our garden to the salsa and I liked what it added to the ensemble so if you've got some on hand, give it a try.)
½ c. chopped sweet onion
1 jalapeno, minced (I may have mentioned before that I like my food spicy hot so this may be a no-go ingredient for you. If you are somewhere in the middle of the road on this issue, go ahead and add the jalapeno but just leave the seeds out.)
1 clove of garlic, minced (Again, “fresh” is the key word here. Don’t go using that jarred stuff; it’s just not the same. Really, it will literally take you about 30 seconds to chop a clove of garlic and if you are so hung up on your fingers not getting all smelly, just wrap some Saran over the hand that’s touching the garlic. See, now I’ve taken away all your excuses.)
1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (If you don’t like cilantro, by all means, leave it out. I love, love, love it so I always include it.)
Juice from ½ a lemon
Salt and Pepper to taste
Toss all ingredients together in a bowl and you’re done…if you like your salsa chunky. Perhaps, you are like my husband and chunks in your salsa gives you the shivers. In that case, just throw it all in a food processor and blend it up. It’s best if you make it at least several hours before you are going to serve it so that the flavors can meld together in the fridge. But if you forgot to plan ahead and serving time is upon you, don’t worry: it will still be eons better than what you get out of those jars.
As I said before, I’m just starting out on this salsa-making road so I would love any suggestions or tips from you salsa-gurus out there!