Monday, January 9, 2012

Enticing Aromas! "Olé!"

To me, there is nothing more satisfying to make than salsa! The enticing aromas of roasted tomatoes, garlic, and chiles, finely chopped white onion, and chopped fresh cilantro, is muy delicioso! One of my favorites is Rick Bayless's "Essential Roasted Tomato-Jalapeno Salsa: From the Stone Mortar (Salsa de Molcajete)." For this recipe, I used my beloved mortar and pestle. If you don't have one, just use a blender or food processor. If you like it really spicy, add another jalapeno. Besides tortilla chips and guacamole, this salsa is also fantastic with eggs, chicken, and fish! (It's always devoured the day I make it!)

Roasted Tomato-Jalapeno Salsa (Salsa de Molcajete)

Makes about 2 cups


1 pound (2 medium-large round or 6 to 8 plum) red, ripe tomatoes
2 large (about 1 ounce total) fresh jalapeno chiles
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Salt, about a scant 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 small (about 2 ounces) white onion, finely chopped
A generous 1/3 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
About 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar (optional, I prefer it without)


Roasting the basic ingredients:
The broiler method: Lay the tomatoes on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot boiler. Roast until blistered and blackened on one side, about 6 minutes; with a spoon or pair of tongs, flip the tomatoes and roast on the other side.

The griddle method: Line a griddle or heavy skillet with aluminum foil and heat over medium. Lay the tomatoes on the foil and roast, turning several times, until blistered, blackened and softened, about 10 minutes. Don't worry if skin sticks to the foil.
Cool, then peel the skins, collecting all the juices with the tomatoes.

While the tomatoes are roasting, roast the chiles and unpeeled garlic directly on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet (you already have one set up if you've griddle-roasted the tomatoes) over medium. Turn occaisionally until both the chiles and garlic are blackened in spots and soft, 5-10 minutes for the chiles, about 15 minutes for the garlic. Cool, pull the stems off the chiles and peel the papery skins from the garlic.

Grinding the salsa:
The mortar method: In a large mortar (molcajete), use the pestle to crush and grind the chiles, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt to a coarse-textured paste (this will release a wonderfully pungent aroma), paying special attention to breaking up the chile skins. A few at a time, grind in the roasted tomatoes, transferring the ground mixture to a bowl if the mortar gets unmanageably full.

The food processor or blender method: In a food processor or blender, grind the chiles, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt to a coarse paste, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Add the tomatoes and pulse a few times until you have a coarse-textured puree.

Transfer the salsa to a serving bowl, and stir in any reserved tomato juices.

Final Seasoning:
In a strainer, rinse the onion under running water (aka., de-flaming), shake off the excess and stir into the salsa, along with the cilantro and optional vinegar. Add water, if necessary, to give the salsa a thickish, but easily spoonable, consistency (2-4 tablespoons). Taste and season with salt, usually a scant 1/4 teaspoon, and the salsa's ready to serve!

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