Friday, August 10, 2012

The Best Salsa Ever

If you would also like to see last year's post regarding how to roast and freeze tomatoes, click here or check the archive at left for August, 2011.

OK, I know I'm sticking my neck out a little to claim this is the best salsa ever, but let me tell you why.  Some of you have heard me talk about our community garden adventure and the fact that we grew 28 different varieties of tomatoes.  What I haven't mentioned is that we grew two plants for each variety in the event that one was broken in the wind or otherwise croaked.  So we had 56 tomato plants.  What started as a bunch of cute little plants in spring turned into a veritable tomato tsunami in late summer that washed from the garden into our kitchen.  In addition to roasting tomatoes, eating tomatoes and giving tomatoes away, we tried probably 5 or 6 different salsa recipes over the years.  Most of them involved canning, which has the advantage of making lots of salsa at a time but it also involves specialized equipment and mass quantities of boiling water and steam at the hottest time of the year.

We chose our favorite recipe for a typical salsa and made it several years in a row.  But then I discovered this recipe, which I think came from celebrity chef Rick Bayless.  The flavor is entirely different from a typical salsa because all the ingredients are roasted until charred and then pureed, which gives it a smoky depth of flavor.  It's not watery like some homemade salsas, and it's not too thick like some of the popular store brands - it's just right.  (Sorry for the Goldilocks moment.)  An added bonus for the cilantro-haters out there is that it doesn't have any.  For the cilantro-lovers (like me), just put some cilantro in whatever you're serving with the salsa (like the quesadillas we're having tonight).  I would call the heat factor relatively mild, especially when served with chips or food.  Sampled by itself it will taste somewhat spicy but this is by no means a hot salsa.  It's meant to be smoky and warm, not hot.

The flavor is delicious and there's no canning involved - you just put the salsa into clean containers and freeze it.  It only takes about 30 minutes to make, and it's made in manageable quantities.  Here's all you need to make one batch, which makes about two cups of salsa.

 If you decide you really like it and want to make larger quantities, my suggestion is to make several batches rather than one big batch because if you crowd the broiler pan too much the vegetables will steam instead of charring properly, which is what gives them the smoky flavor.  (Not to mention that if you put more than one batch in the blender at a time you risk a salsa explosion all over your kitchen.)

 We make this every year now.  If you've never made salsa or even if you already have a favorite recipe, try this one and see what you think.  The ingredients are readily available at the farmers market or at the store and it's so easy to make it's almost foolproof.  Just be sure to tuck the garlic under the other ingredients before broiling so the garlic doesn't blacken along with everything else and turn bitter.  When it's hidden under something it steams and roasts and becomes mellow and sweet instead.

Not everything will char at the same rate.  At this point the jalapenos and garlic were ready to take out but the onion and tomatoes needed more time.

After a few more minutes under the broiler the onion and tomatoes were ready.

At some point during this process you will probably become deeply skeptical that it's going to work.  You'll look at that blackened mess and think there's no way it will ever turn into anything edible.

 Oh, ye of little faith.  Just add some water and turn on the blender.  You end up with a beautiful salsa with cool little charred specks.  It's magic.  And delicious!

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Roasted Tomato Salsa
Yield: 2 cups

5 Roma (plum) tomatoes
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and seeded
½ medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half (2 quarters)
½ cup water
½ - 1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the broiler with a rack at the highest position possible without having the food touch the heating elements. Place the tomatoes, garlic, chiles and onion on a baking tray lined with foil. Tuck garlic under other vegetables to avoid blackening (they’re easiest to tuck under the jalapeno halves). Broil, turning frequently until well charred, about 15-20 minutes. You may need to take some of the vegetables out earlier than others for all to achieve the right amount of charring. Set aside to cool.

Core the tomatoes. With a rubber spatula, scrape the roasted ingredients and their juices (including the blackened skins) into a food processor or blender and puree with the water until smooth.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Keep refrigerated or may be frozen.

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