Tomato sauce (Recipe: Tex-Mex salsa)
While I'm on vacation, please enjoy this post from Kim, a frequent guest blogger here on The Perfect Pantry.
Guest post and photo by Kim in Pasadena, California.
I’m originally from the East Coast, and the most exotic thing I'd eaten before I went into the military back in 1979 was scrapple (that’s one of those “don’t ask, don’t tell" foods).
I had never heard of Southwestern food, never mind Mexican food, so the concept of stuff wrapped in what amounts to a flour or corn pancake was totally outside my understanding. The only thing I’d seen like that was crepes.
My first experience with Mexican food was Taco Bell (no eye rolling allowed). It was quite a wonder for someone coming from a culinary background that had three major types of food: upscale French; cheese steaks/hoagies; and pizza by the slice, topped with cheese and tomato sauce.
Once introduced to Taco Bell at my first duty station in Tucson, I tried to go there every chance I got, just to try something different. It was not until several years later I became aware that there were real Mexican restaurants. Imagine my delight in discovering guacamole and, of course, what no well-dressed chip would be without -- the Tex-Mex version of salsa. I've been making it ever since.
Salsa has its roots with the Aztecs, and was being hawked in their food markets long before Mexico was a glimmer in the eyes of the conquistadors. It's pretty much the same recipe today, except that the Aztecs added pumpkin seeds (I’m guessing for texture and as a thickener).
Generally speaking, tomato salsa falls into three categories: the salsa we put on soft tacos (pico de gallo, which is just tomatoes, pepper, onion and cilantro); the cooked tomato salsa with all of the ingredients roasted and blended into more of a smooth paste; and the salsa that marries perfectly with corn chips.
My salsa is born to be with chips and is not too mild or too spicy. What makes it possible for all the ingredients to play nice and hang on a chip is the addition of tomato sauce -- not the pizza-topping marinara, but the tomato sauce that comes in a can.
Tomato sauce is peeled, seeded, cooked-down-until-thickened tomatoes, plus some salt and spices, usually added to a recipe to provide texture and a bit of mild tomato flavor. I always have a few cans in my pantry, though it's easy enough to make your own and freeze it.
Most brands of store-bought tomato sauce are pretty much the same, and the cans look the same, too, so remember to read labels to make sure you're not getting no-salt-added or basil-and-garlic-added, which is great for those East Coast pizzas, but not the flavors you want for salsa.
Kim's Tex-Mex salsa
I hope you enjoy my twist on an old favorite, made with tomato sauce, a favorite pantry ingredient. Makes approximately 3 cups.
3 jalapeño peppers
3 California green chile peppers (poblano or other mild variety)
2 qts water
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium green bell pepper
6 green onions (scallions)
3 cloves garlic (or 1 Tbsp garlic powder )
1 medium onion
Juice of 1 lime
1-1/2 Tbsp wine vinegar
1 tsp white wine
1 cup tomato sauce
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
Pinch of sugar
Wash the jalapeño, green chiles, and tomatillos (remove the dry husk first). Place them, whole, on a sheet pan, and roast under the broiler, turning the chiles and tomatillos every 2 minutes, so they will cook on all sides. Be sure to keep an eye on them! The skin will wrinkle and turn a bit black. When done on all sides, remove and cover with a bowl, and let sit to cool. This will cause the skin of the chiles to steam off. Remove the skins as soon as the chilies are cool enough to handle, then chop the skinned chilies and tomatillos and set aside. [Note: the seeds in the peppers make it hot, so the more seeds you leave in, the hotter this salsa will be.]
Bring the 2 quarts of water, with the olive oil, to a simmer. With a sharp paring knife, make an ”X” at the bottom (not the stem end) of each tomato, cutting only the skin. Add the tomatoes for 4 minutes or until the “X” starts to split. Remove from water, let cool enough to handle, then skin, core, and dice the tomatoes and place in a large glass bowl.
Dice the bell pepper, green onion, garlic, and onion, and add to the tomatoes. Add the chopped roasted chiles and tomatillos.
Add to this the lime juice, wine vinegar, white wine, tomato sauce, and cilantro, and salt to taste. Lastly sprinkle sugar, and stir to combine.
Let the salsa sit in the refrigerator for 1 hour, to let the flavors combine.