Salsa Season
1 Jun 2009

There is just nothing like late spring in Seattle. Yes, there are beautiful days everywhere, but on a beautiful, warm May or early June day in Seattle, you'd think they were pumping funny stuff into our water. It seems like everyone is getting outside and everyone is smiling. I'm sure it's just the contrast and the thankfulness that instead of misty grey, we can see blue skies and sunshine... those skies that are easily taken for granted in other places that I've lived. The garden wakes up (thanks Amy!), we start using our deck again, and enjoying the light late into the evening. Neighbors come out of their winter cocoons to stop by to say hi or to enjoy some pink wine. Friends out for a jog or a ride or a paddle may even make their way by our place. On Friday afternoons, often at the last moment, we hang out a shingle (or just tweet) and announce the deck is open! Last Friday was no exception and neighbors and friends stopped in with little ones in tow. And I had salsa on the brain. Sometime around 10am, I just got to thinking about salsa. I was on a salsa tear last fall when I was shooting the Taco cookbook by Scott Wilson that is out later this year (I just noticed, it's currently on pre-order! Trust me on this one, the recipes are outstanding! Don't miss it!) but I don't really get in the mood for that kind of thing until summer rolls around. So, as I was thinking about what we'd throw on the barbecue on Friday, all I could think about was making salsa. It started with a "many chile" salsa, and quickly moved on to a chipotle mayo, a fresh tomatillo (no, it isn't tomatillo season. bad, bad me), a crema fresca coleslaw and finally a morita corn salsa that is amazing on mushroom tortillas. Then of course, there had to be the appropriate taco accompaniments.... skirt steak, some grilled chicken, fish and portobello mushrooms. I'm pretty sure I whipped up enough food to feed about 3 Seattle blocks. After everyone had left, I realized that I hadn't even remembered to put out the big pot of pinto beans I had cooked up! But I'm pretty sure no one went away hungry. But let me step back to that "many chile" salsa.

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This is a great little recipe to pull out this time of year, especially if you don't mind hot stuff. I make it from all dried chiles, which are always easy to have on hand (and very inexpensive) and it comes together in about an hour and tastes like a million bucks. It also keeps just fine in the fridge for a week or two. Which means, of course, the next time the deck is open, there will be plenty of salsa. Come on over! BTW - if you don't make it over on Friday, you can catch me, Matthew Amster-Burton, Shauna Ahern and Molly Wizenberg at University Village Barnes & Noble on Saturday at 1pm. I'm not all that interesting to listen to... but you'll kick yourself if you miss seeing Matthew, Shauna and Molly cracking each other up!
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Many Chile Salsa

This is my spin on Scott Wilson's 7 Chile Salsa recipe. I don't toast my chiles first, and don't really depend on particular chiles. You can use any dried chiles you have on hand. The key is to have enough of a variety that you get a little smoky, a little hot, a little nutty and a little fruity in the mix. I just throw in whatever chiles I have on hand... sometimes it's more than 7, sometimes it's less. For Friday's salsa, I had moritas (smoky), chipotle (smoky), ancho (rich and sweet), arbol (hot!), criolla stella (HOT!), guajillo (smooth, sweet and nutty) and puya (fruity and potent). If you are in Seattle, Carniceria Azteca has a good selection of dried chiles and good corn tortillas. Also, stock up at the University Farmer's market in the fall... they dry a wide variety of their heirloom chiles (that's where I got the criolla stellas).

A variety of dried chiles, roughly 2-3 cups
boiling water
1 T olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 T cilantro, chopped (optional)
4-5 epazote leaves, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
salt to taste

Remove the stems from the dried chiles and shake out as many of the seeds as you can. Don't worry if there are still some in there. Then, tear the larger chiles into smaller pieces. Dump them all in a bowl and cover with hot water. Let sit for at least 20 minutes. Drain the chiles, but keep the water they have been soaking in.

Heat a good sized skillet with the olive oil, and add the garlic and tomato paste. Cook for about 4 minutes, then add the chiles and the cilantro and epazote if you are using them. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring to keep anything from burning.

Add the chile mixture to a food processor or blender along with the vinegar and honey. Puree. If the mixture gets too thick, thin it with a bit of the reserved chile water. (You can also use this chile water as a flavoring for other dishes, like a pot of pinto beans... but it may be very spicy, so use it cautiously). Add a little salt and a little more vinegar or honey to taste. You can use the salsa while it is still warm, but I prefer it chilled for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend.


(In case you were wondering, I am an Amazon affiliate, and purchases from links in this post to Amazon may earn me a nickel or two... so thanks!).

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