In the house where I grew up, the cuisine spanned two cultures: eastern European Jewish, and Weight Watchers®.
Neither of those cultures embraced salsa, at least not back in the 1960s, so it was decades before I first tasted the condiment that now might, or might not, be more popular than ketchup.
When tomatoes are in season, I make salsa fresca with fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers, lime and salt. For most of the year, though, I also keep jars of several types of store bought (cooked) salsa in my pantry: smoky peach, tomatillo and habanero-lime salsas, from Trader Joe's; medium-hot mango salsa from Costco; mild tomato salsa made by Paul Newman (okay, I know he didn't make it, but I like seeing his face on my pantry shelf, and I can buy his salsa in my local market).
Salsa is low-calorie and diet-friendly. Whirr it in a blender, and you have instant soup. Mix it into ground beef to make your meatloaf perky. Think of salsa as canned tomatoes, onions and pepper, and soon you'll discover lots of ways to use it as an ingredient in your cooking.
Oh -- it's pretty good on my grandmother's brisket, too.
What is salsa?
A chunky sauce made of fresh tomatoes, onion, chile pepper and an acid (lime juice is most common). Commercial salsa is heat treated for longer shelf life and stabilization.
How/where to store:
Unopened, in the pantry cupboard indefinitely (check the use-by date on the jar); once opened, store in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.
More facts about salsa, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Salsa (Recipe: ropa vieja)
Chicken, black bean, avocado and cheese quesadillas
The treat with this quesadilla (really just a grilled cheese sandwich, using tortillas instead of bread), is that the salsa is inside, warmed by the cheese and flavoring every bite. Proportions are not important here; what's important is the melding of flavors. Omit the chicken if you prefer a vegetarian quesadilla, but don't forget the salsa. It makes all the difference.
2 tortillas per person (I use Joseph's Flax, Oat Bran and Whole Wheat Tortillas, but you can use any whole wheat or white flour tortillas, in any size)
Cooked chicken, torn into small pieces (a rotisserie chicken is perfect for this)
Cooked or canned black beans (if using canned beans, drain and rinse well)
Avocado, peeled and thinly sliced (you'll need a few slices per person)
1/2 cup grated cheese per person (use Monterey Jack or low-fat Mexican shredded cheese mix)
1/4 cup salsa per person
Heat a griddle or nonstick frying pan over low-medium heat. Do not oil the pan.
On the counter top, assemble your quesadillas:
Place one tortilla on the counter top. Sprinkle 1/4 cup grated cheese. Arrange a bit of chicken all around. Sprinkle a handful of black beans here and there. Add some avocado, as much as you like. Spread all of the salsa around, so there will be salsa in every bite. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese, and then the second tortilla. Press down gently so your quesadilla is the same thickness all over.
Carefully set the quesadilla on the griddle or frying pan. Cook 2-3 minutes, until the bottom layer of cheese has melted and the tortilla is lightly browned. Using a large spatula, flip the quesadilla, and cook 2-3 minutes until the cheese that's now on the bottom is melted, and the tortilla is lightly browned.
Remove the quesadilla to a large cutting board, and let it sit for 2-3 minutes so the cheese has a chance to pull everything together. Using a large knife, cut into wedges. Serve with additional salsa, if desired.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Salsa and shrimp stuffed avocado
Black bean and peach soup
Black bean and brown rice burrito
Tequila lime flank steak with cherry tomato salsa
Other recipes that use salsa:
Grilled tri-tip steak with chimol salsa, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Jerk chicken panini with pineapple-black bean salsa, from Panini Happy
Guacamole omelette with salsa, from Closet Cooking
Green beans with tomatillo salsa dressing, from A Veggie Venture
Cumin-grilled tofu with papaya salsa, from Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen
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