According to the season 4 episode of Seinfeld titled “The Pitch,” which aired in 1992, Salsa was America’s #1 condiment. Jerry believes this is because people like saying “salsa.” A 2013 Businessinsider.com article agrees, at least about the best selling part. Businessinsider.com says the #1 condiment of 2016 was Sriracha. Personally I’ve never been a huge fan of jarred salsa, but a quick trip to any grocery store or market will prove that salsa is big business. A large area of shelf space will be dedicated to a wide variety of salsas.
Of course “salsa” is simply the Spanish word for “sauce.” In America we have muddled the term and confused it with “picante” (Spanish for “spicy”) and pico de gallo (literally “peak of the rooster” or “rooster’s beak,” I’ll let Wikipedia explain that one to you) among others. The fact that “salsa” doesn’t refer to a specific item or recipe is great news. That means we can do whatever we want to our salsa and still feel part of a great, ancient tradition of making delicious sauces to dip chips into and put on other things.
Salsa is one of those things that even though it is incredibly easy to make most people, including myself, still just buy it. There are so many different salsas out there that you can find one that fits your tastes almost exactly. Then you can invite people over and tell them all how you’ve discovered the best salsa ever. And then they can all tell you how much you’re wrong and how they’ve discovered the best salsa ever. The alternative is to make your own salsa and have them all “ooh and aah” over it. They won’t dare tell you that any other salsa is better.
The fun thing about making your own salsa is that there are so many ways customize it, and it is almost impossible to go wrong. If you have a favorite jarred salsa you can start with that as a guide, or you can use your own imagination. There are so many ingredients that can go into salsa: from the traditional onion, tomatoes, garlic, and chiles; to the more adventurous but still common corn, black beans, lime, pineapple, mango; to the super adventurous fennel, cucumber, radishes, and cranberries. Venture too far and you’ll be in chutney territory, but since they’re practically the same thing I’m cool with that.
Step one is to decide what ingredients you want to use. As an example I made a salsa using tomatoes, green onion, poblano peppers, pineapple, garlic and cilantro. I chose green onions because I like their mildness and texture, which I’ll talk about more later. I like poblano peppers because they are just mildly spicy. I’m not huge on spicy foods myself, and I was making this to take to a group event, so going mild is usually safer. Poblanos give just enough heat and flavor, a little more than a bell pepper, for my tastes. The pineapple will add some sweet tropical-ness into the salsa, and I have something special in store for it. Cilantro is always a risky one. While some will say it’s not authentic without it, others, such as my sister, will say it tastes like soap. This is an actual genetic/biological thing; some people are more receptive to a certain chemicals (aldehydes) in cilantro that remind them of soap.
Step two is to decide if you want to cook the ingredients or leave them raw. Most jarred salsas will be cooked, but when making salsa myself I prefer “salsa fresca,” or fresh salsa. Sometimes I don’t want the crunch, so another alternative is to cook some of the ingredients but not all of them. You could cook up some onions, peppers, and garlic and then add them to fresh tomatoes or tomatillos. For this recipe I have decided to roast the poblanos and use raw green onions, which have a more delicate crunch than bulb onions. I am going to leave the garlic raw and just mince it as I like the bright spiciness of raw garlic. Along with the peppers I’m also going to roast the pineapple. As the peppers finish the pineapple will just be starting to get a nice caramel sweetness to it.
Step three: chunky or smooth. This one is so divisive. The real question is do you want all of the flavors to be homogeneous, a bit of everything in each bite, or do you want the ingredients to stand out separately? For cooked salsa I like them to be blended. The cooking process will naturally combine the flavors more, but I like a smoother texture as well. Not ketchup smooth, but not chunky. For fresh salsa I can go either way. My biggest issue is that I hate, absolutely HATE, dicing tomatoes. It’s really the only prepping item that I dislike. I’ll dice onions all day if that means I can avoid dicing tomatoes. So I often throw at least the tomatoes in the food processor and give them a few pulses so they’re not completely pureed but somewhat (very irregularly, the bad thing about food processors) chopped up. For this recipe however, I sucked it up and diced the tomatoes by hand.
Step four is to finish it up and season it. Salt, black pepper, cumin, toasted cumin, coriander seed, cilantro (aka coriander leaves), oregano, thyme, ginger, dried chile, lemon, lime: you name it. Have some chips handy so you can taste it as you go, and if they can be the chips you will serve it with that helps because different chips have different salt levels.
Roasted Poblano & Pineapple Salsa Fresca
- 4 Poblano Peppers
- 1 Pineapple
- about 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 6-8 tomatoes depending on size
- 6 Green Onions
- 2 cloves Garlic
- about 1 cup loosely packed Cilantro leaves
- 1 Lime
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Stem and halve the peppers, removing seeds and ribs for a milder flavor. Place cut side down on a sheet pan.
- Peel and core the pineapple into fourths. Place the pieces core-side down on the pan with the peppers.
- Brush the peppers and pineapple with olive oil.
- Roast the peppers and pineapple in the oven until the pepper skins are starting to turn black, about 45 minutes. The pineapple should be starting to get some nice brown caramelization around the edges.
- While the peppers and pineapple are roasting dice the tomatoes and green onions (green and white parts) and combine in a bowl.
- Mince the garlic cloves and add to the tomatoes and onions.
- Chop the cilantro leaves and add to the bowl. The tender stems can be chopped with the leaves. If you’re not sure how much cilantro you want you can wait to add it until later.
- When the peppers and pineapple are done roasting remove the peppers to a plate or bowl and cover them to let them steam themselves. This will make the skins easier to remove.
- While the peppers are steaming, dice the pineapple and add it to the bowl.
- Peel and dice the peppers and add them to the bowl.
- If you like lots of lime flavor you can zest the lime first into the bowl, or keep the zest to the side to decided later. Start by juicing half of the lime into the bowl.
- Season with salt, pepper, more lime juice/zest, and cilantro until it tastes good.
- Announce to the world you have made the best salsa ever and invite everyone over to try it. Dare them to tell you that they’ve had better salsa.