It’s June and in East Texas, global pandemic or not, we all start looking for our first homegrown tomatoes. Those who don’t have home gardens find them at the farmers market. After a year of eating off-season tomatoes from around the hemisphere, biting into a fresh tomato ripened on the vine is like tasting a little bit of heaven.
Any dish is enhanced with these flavor packed fruits. No wonder this indigenous food of the Americas became such a sensation around the world. In pre-Columbian America, tomatoes were added to peppers, squash and spices to make a relish that was eaten as a condiment with turkey, venison, lobster and fish. The Maya, Aztecs and Incas all made variations of this tasty sauce. The Spaniards first recorded their encounter with this food in the early 1500s. A Franciscan priest, Alonso de Molina, called this sauce, salsa (the Spanish word for sauce) in his dictionary of the day and the term salsa has survived today as the wonderful condiment we all know from Mexican cuisine.
Recipes for salsa are as varied today as they were among the ancient meso Americans. Green tomatillos, pumpkin seed, avocado, pineapple salsa are all popular condiments from various parts of Mexico, and most Mexicans would agree that a meal is not complete without salsa. But of course, in the States, the champion of all salsas is that irresistible tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeno and salt mixture that has become a staple at parties and on any TexMex restaurant menu.
A few years back when my kitchen counter was full of ripe home-growns, I developed a recipe to transfer some of that fresh, succulent flavor into an easy to make salsa to accompany our next meal. While many salsa recipes blend fresh ingredients to make the sauce, this salsa enhances the flavors of the combined ingredients by cooking them together. If you like your salsa to be a homogenous mix, run it through the blender after cooling. I prefer a chunky salsa, so I eliminate the blending step. You can vary the degree of spiciness by how many jalapeño seeds you include Seeding both peppers yields a mild salsa. When I served my recipe to my favorite critic, Kathy exclaimed, “That’s the best salsa I ever had!” For those who do not know, Kathy is very discriminating about certain things, champagne, red wine, salsa and men.
Staying home more has provided ample opportunity to explore creativity. Shakespeare’s greatest burst of energy occurred between 1605 and 1606, when he composed King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. There was a plague year in England and scholars believe he was quarantined. So, let’s explore our creativity! Get out your writing materials and put on your apron. Get the kids involved. It’s time to savor tomatoes!
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He is a Nacogdoches resident and he helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable channel 2 in Nacogdoches.