Saturday, February 2, 2008

February 2: Roasted Tomato Salsa

If I were told that I had to accept only one nationality of food for the rest of my life, it would be Mexican. It really would. I have loved Mexican food all my life, and I would rather have a bowl of great chips and really good spicy salsa than any other kind of snack on earth. Just this week, a blogger who goes by the name Homesick Texan wrote about nachos, how the best were just a great corn chip topped with longhorn Cheddar cheese and a slice of jalapeno. I couldn't agree more. That is a great nacho. Pure. Straightforward. A thing of beauty.

The thing about real Mexican food (I am not talking about a burrito from Chipotle either) is that it is simple ingredients made to taste good by poor people. Why do you think southern food tastes so good? Who first started cooking black eyed peas and greens with the pieces of the meat that rich people threw away? The slaves, that's who--they were carrying on their culinary traditions the best way they could with very few real resources. Real Mexican food isn't covered in melted cheese and Old El Paso taco sauce. It isn't folded inside a perfectly round, thinly-pressed, flaky flour tortilla or in a fried corn taco shell.

I am crazy about my husband but I have a tiny crush on Rick Bayless. He is an American chef who is as crazy for Mexican food as I am. He has two Mexican restaurants in Chicago, Topolobampo and Frontera Grill. The Frontera brand salsas you see in grocery stores? Those are his. He also has a PBS cooking show that I miss more often than I see it, which is a shame because he is always cooking something like a spice paste-rubbed pork shoulder wrapped in avocado leaves and slow-cooked over a low fire for hours. Man oh man.

Luckily for me, he writes cookbooks. My mother gave me one in 1999, called Salsas That Cook. I can count the number of actual jars of salsa I've purchased since then on one hand. Why should I buy a jar of tomato-paste-flavored, dull, over-processed, additive-laden imitation salsa when I can make my own so easily? Even in the dead of winter, when tomatoes are...well, how many times have I mentioned what I think of mid-winter tomatoes? Anyway, Rick Bayless makes flawless, amazing, delicious salsa of every imaginable variety, and the importance of the quality of the ingredients is diminished substantially by his cooking methods.

Roast a tomato in a very hot oven, even a bad tomato, and it becomes, at worst, entirely tolerable. Roast it along with thick slices of onion and whole peppers and cloves of garlic and it becomes something magical. This is my go-to guy when it comes to salsa. It is as great on chips as it is next to a cheese quesadilla or on top of a chicken enchilada. Something about the oven transforms these ingredients, which are perfectly fine raw--I am a big fan of pico de gallo, that staple of your local Mexican restaurant--into a complex, rich, great big taste.

This makes about a cup of salsa, which isn't enough. I double it, and occasionally, I make three or four times this recipe and freeze it. It freezes really well.

Roasted Tomato-Jalapeno Salsa

4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes
1 white onion, sliced into 1/2 inch thick rings and separated
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1-2 fresh jalapeno peppers
1/4 cup finely minced cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
salt to taste

Preheat broiler. Place rack in topmost position under broiler.

In a sheet pan lined with foil, arrange the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers. Broil, stirring occasionally, until onions are very dark. The tomatoes may need a few more minutes until they are losing their shape. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, 10 minutes or so.

Put all ingredients into bowl of food processor fitted with chopping blade. Pulse in one-second pulses until ingredients are well chopped and combined. Taste for salt. Cool until chilled, stir, and serve.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Molly,

I found your blog through a comment you left for Tertia, and immediately read all through your archives. I have to say I love the idea of cooking more than cooking itself, but I may have to try some of your recipes for myself!