A Chip’s Best Friend
Roasted Tomato-Pepper Salsa
There are certain foods that always take me home, no matter where in the world I may be. Salsa is one of those foods. On my last trip to West Africa, during a moment of longing, I asked the woman who prepared our meals to make salsa. Describing the process and ingredients with my basic Bamana vocabulary (a language widely spoken in Mali), and lots of hand gestures, I was fairly sure she understood. The result, however, showed otherwise. Large chunks of tomato, onion, green peppers, boiled carrots and beets filled the bowl, garnished with lime halves. Though it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, it did make me feel at home—and I found the fried sweet plantain she served a delicious alternative to chips! My renditions may be more familiar: a grilled tomato and pepper salsa that highlights late summer flavors or a “drunken” mango salsa that conjures the tropics. Serve with chips or fried plantain. Hold the beets.
RECIPE: Roasted Tomato-Pepper Salsa
3–4 large tomatoes, rinsed
1 large or 2 medium tomatillos, papery husk removed
1 whole yellow onion, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices
4 cloves garlic, skin on
2 serrano or 1 aji peppers (medium heat), rinsed
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tsp salt
Heat grill to about 400ºF. Set tomatoes, tomatillos, onion slices, unpeeled garlic and peppers on the grill, turning as needed to brown or blister the vegetables. The vegetables will take about 15 minutes, though garlic and small peppers will be done quicker, and tomatillos will be ready before tomatoes. Be sure to turn them as needed, about every 4–5 minutes.
Grill peppers until skin is blackened. Place in plastic bag to sweat for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, grill tomatillos, garlic and onion slices, turning as they cook. Tomatoes’ skin should crack and blacken slightly (about 15 minutes), tomatillos will become slightly charred and juicy inside (about 10 minutes). Flip onion slices until they are caramel colored (about 5 minutes per side) and turn garlic until skin is golden and garlic is soft to the touch (about 8–10 minutes).
When tomatoes, tomatillos and onions are done, place in a bowl along with peeled garlic and peeled and deseeded peppers. Place everything into a food processor. Pulse until veggies are blended but still chunky, about 5–10 seconds. Add coursely chopped cilantro and pulse again. Add salt to taste.
RECIPE: Drunken Mango Salsa
1 small bunch cilantro
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, whole, unpeeled
1/2–1/4 habanero pepper, de-seeded and finely diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
2 tbsp tequila
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt, sugar to taste (about 1 tsp each)
Heat gas or charcoal grill to about 400ºF. Place yellow and red peppers on grill, turning until all sides are blackened and blistered, about 15 minutes. Place in a plastic bag and let the pepper “sweat.” Place unpeeled garlic cloves in grill as well and heat until skin is golden and cloves are soft, about 5 minutes each side. Set aside grilled veggies. Chop cilantro finely and place in bowl. Peel and slice mangoes. Dice finely, or place in bowl with cilantro. A ripe mango should be soft to the touch, but not too soft, like a ripe peach. Finely dice the habanero, and add to bowl. (Use plastic bags as gloves while handling peppers and discard to prevent pepper from burning your skin! Wash cutting boards and knives immediately and well!) Remove skin and seeds from grilled peppers; rinsing them under water as you work can help. Dice peppers, and add to bowl. Squeeze garlic into bowl as well. Mix all ingredients well. Add tequila, salt, touch of sugar, cilantro, and lime juice to taste.
This can be made in a processor. Add cilantro first, then roughly chop other ingredients, add to processor and pulse about 5 seconds until consistency you prefer. Refrigerate until serving.
RECIPE: Tortilla Chips
10 corn tortillas
Oil for frying
Cut tortillas into 8 wedges each. Heat a skillet with vegetable oil, about 1/4 inch deep. Place tortillas pieces in and fry on one side until puffy and golden, about 1–2 minutes; flip and fry on other side until golden. Drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with salt if desired.
RECIPE: Fried Sweet Plantains
3 very ripe plantains (Note: The plantain skin should be very dark brown, almost black, and the plantain semi-soft to the touch.)
Oil for frying
Peel the skin and slice the soft fruit on the diagonal about 1/4–1/2 inch thick. Heat a skillet with vegetable oil, about 1/4 inch deep. Place plantain slices in and fry on one side until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Flip and fry on other side until golden, about 3 more minutes. Drain on paper towel.