One Crazy Sista’s Passion for Summertime Salsa
GULF SHORES, Ala., July 17, 2012 /PRNewswire-iReach/ — Every summer my family thinks I become a tad bit “Tomato Crazy.” Okay, I admit it! When the dog days of summer descend, that’s just about the time the tomatoes are ready to harvest around the county as well as in my little homespun garden. I can barely contain my helicoptering, maternal instincts when it comes to monitoring the progress of my tomato plants! I’ve got cherry, patio, heirlooms, yellow grape, beefsteak and German Johnson tomatoes. I know not all of them will make it; my thumb is hopelessly pink and not green. Still, most mornings I chat with my plants, serenading them with inspirational music and gently coaxing them to reach for their glorious potential. I worry about too much watering when the black spots appear on the delicate leaves. So I reset the timer on the sprinkler, only to find them drooping lifelessly toward the parched ground the next, scorching, day. Don’t even get me started on my outrage when I discover gnarly caterpillars entwined along the tender branches, busily gnawing away, piece by piece, on my beautiful plants.
Yet, every year I make the effort because I’m in love with the idea of growing what my daddy used to reverently call “homegrowns,” as if they held a deep, dark secret. He was referring, of course, to the bright crimson orbs that spilled out of wide-weave straw baskets, filling the shelves of roadside stands that spring to life each summer. I learned the secret as a young child when he took me to the farmers market on Halls Mill Road one day (while my mother was at her ritual Saturday morning beauty parlor appointment.) Daddy was studiously picking over a basketful when the farmer whose stand it was offered me a bite out of a blood-red ripe tomato. The man wanted me to bite into it right there and that seemed forbidden to me; I had only eaten fruit that way. In my family, tomatoes were for slicing, and up until then I usually pushed them to the side of my plate. That day, with my father’s wink of approval, I shoved that tomato into my little mouth and took a fierce bite. Juice ran down my chin just like when I ate a Chilton County peach in my grandmother’s back yard but the taste was astonishing: tart, sweet, acidic, juicy … all at the same time. It would be many years before I learned that a tomato is actually a fruit or have the vocabulary to describe the experience, but from that day forward tomatoes held a special place in my heart.
So it is not surprising that tomatoes have also played a starring role in my culinary career and learning to use them for salsa was certainly a defining moment! Not because it was Harrison Ford who gave me my first salsa (-making) lesson. (He hired me to be his chef while shooting The Mosquito Coast in Belize but that is another story.) Not because we were on a yacht in the Caribbean. And not because, it was my first-ever paid cooking job. No, learning to make salsa threw a dogleg-turn in my path away from the Southern-style cuisine I learned at my grandmothers’ tables – delicious, comforting, wonderful meals, but few dishes boasted the novel use of fresh ingredients. Until then, I thought all salsa came in jar!
If it’s summertime, there are red and green tomatoes sitting on the windowsill above my sink and a bowl of fresh salsa in the fridge. I use it for everything: a dressing for fresh crabmeat, a spoonful with my pinkeye peas, a condiment for any grilled meat or fish and a topping for a morning omelet. The riper the tomato, the better, and “homegrowns” make the best salsa, especially those that some people pass over because they are soft, bruised or about to “turn bad.” Those babies are perfect for salsa- making!
Don’t think green tomatoes are only for frying. Recently while impatiently waiting for some to ripen, I concocted a tart and spicy mouth-watering salsa. The citrus juices basically “cook” the green tomato, yet it keeps a firm texture that renders a hearty salsa – delicious with my favorite shrimp quesadilla. Now, call me crazy… or try these recipes and taste for yourself.
CRAZY SISTA’S HEAVENLY HOMEGROWN SALSA
Makes 4 cups
4 ripe large homegrown tomatoes or 2 pints of cherry tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ cup sweet yellow onion, finely chopped (I use Vidalia)
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
3 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for two hours or overnight.
CRAZY SISTA’S GREEN TOMATO SUMMER SALSA
Makes 2 cups
1 ear of sweet white field-grown corn, still in the husk
2-3 large green tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
½ red jalapeno, finely chopped
½ teaspoon of agave nectar or sugar
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or use a garlic press
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon, about 2 tablespoons
Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
Place ear of corn in microwave and cook for 4 minutes. With oven mitts on, carefully remove corn. Grab the stalk end and shake vigorously over the sink until cob of corn slips easily out of shuck, completely free of silk. (Check out this crazy fun YouTube video, “Shucking Corn with Ken” for inspiration!)
When corn is cooled, cut kernels from cob and place in a glass bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Stir mixture, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
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SOURCE Lucy “LuLu” Buffett