Fiery and flavorful salsas

Peppers, tomatoes add bursts of color and flavor

September 7, 2011 

  • When developing a salsa recipe, try to achieve balance among these elements:

    Color: The huge variety of heirloom tomatoes and peppers now available provide a nearly unlimited palette.

    Heat: Check to see where chilies rank on the Scoville scale, which measures heat. You can also add heat with hot sauces or ground spices. For chili flavor without much heat, use ground spice mixes.

    Sweetness: Sweet flavors can moderate hot ingredients. Sweetness can come from expected sources, such as fruit, but also unexpected sources such as balsamic or other sweet vinegars, or even from the "fruity" flavors of the peppers themselves.

    Acidity: In addition to its role in balancing the other elements, acidity - from vinegar, many fruit juices, slices of whole citrus fruits and other sources - can amplify the other ingredients' flavors.

    Aromatics: These will often be contributed by herbs, with cilantro a prime example. You can also use cumin, rosemary or another favorite herb, or an exotic element such as coffee.

    Texture: Complementary or contrasting textures can add interest to a salsa. Corn, apples, pears and nuts are some examples of crunchy ingredients that can enhance smooth-textured salsas.

  • Pico De Gallo

    Makes: about 11/2 cups

    1/4 cup coarsely chopped white onion

    1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

    3 fresh serrano or 2 jalapeno chilies, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped

    11/2 ripe medium tomatoes, finely chopped

    Kosher salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

    Put onion, cilantro and chilies in a food processor; pulse until very finely chopped. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

    Spicy Peach Salsa

    Makes: 4 to 5 servings

    11/2 cups peaches cut into small cubes

    1/4 medium red onion, cut into small cubes

    1/4 yellow, red or orange bell pepper, cut into small cubes

    1 jalapeno or other similar-size hot chili, cored, seeded and minced

    1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice or rice vinegar

    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin or chili powder, optional

    Kosher or sea salt, to taste

    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

    Dog's Nose Salsa (Xni Pec)

    This fiery salsa originated in the Yucatan. Xni Pec, a Mayan term, is pronounced "SHNEE-pek" For a slightly milder salsa, seed the chiles.

    Makes: about 21/2 cups

    1 to 4 habanero or Scotch bonnet chilies, stemmed and finely chopped (see note)

    2 medium red tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, with juices

    1 medium red onion, finely chopped

    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

    3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or more to taste

    1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice

    1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

    Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Taste, adding more lime juice if needed.

The kaleidoscope of tomatoes and peppers now in season offers an almost unlimited color palette for making salsa.

And on the flavor side, the huge range of heirloom and standard tomatoes lets you go from expected to subtle to sweeter, with all kinds of tart or acidic or fruity notes to be found. Peppers range from all fruit and no heat in simple bell peppers to the incendiary habanero, which enflames a salsa called Dog's Nose -- so named, some say, because yours will be wet, too, after a tiny bite.

The three recipes provided here illustrate a variety of styles of uncooked salsas: simple Pico de Gallo; sweet fruitiness in Spicy Peach Salsa; and a daring level of fire in the Dog's Nose Salsa, which is also known by the Mayan words for dog's nose, Xni Pec.

Use the recipes as is, or do a little experimenting by swapping out tomatoes, peppers or other ingredients to achieve different looks or flavors. And if you're feeling really creative, use our brief list of suggestions for making your own salsa from the ground up.

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