Friday, November 27, 2009

Tres Salsas Buenas

Salsas and pickled onions: how to set a Mexican table.

Mexican food is a sauce based cuisine, as indeed most cuisines are. But in most cuisines, you will find the sauce serves as the medium in which the meat or vegetables are cooked, or a moisture and flavour addition that the dish would be incomplete without. Mexican salsas (of which there are more than in French cuisine) are seemingly a little more democratic. Any eatery worth its salt will give you at least two or three choices of accompaniment with your taco or quesadilla.

A common misconception about Mexican food is that it's hot. With the dish itself this is generally not the case, though of course there are exceptions. Salsas however, do bring the spice and sometimes to alarming degrees. From mild coriander-fresh salsas to punishing Habanero purees, there is something for all but the most heat shy.

As an act of prudence, I thought it might be wise to give a few basic salsa recipes below in order to suggest them as companions in future recipe posts. All are pretty basic on ingredients and method, versatile and quick to make. The heat ratings are based on the chiles I have used before, and will vary with whatever is available to you.

Charring is a common technique in salsa preparation.
X'nipek | 2 star heat rating

200g brown onion
250g Roma tomato
1 Habanero* chile, seeds removed
Juice of 2-3 limes
Half bunch of coriander
  1. Dice the onion and tomato fairly finely and place in a mixing bowl.
  2. Wearing gloves, split the Habanero down the middle and remove the stem and seeds with a paring knife. Dice finely and add to the bowl.
  3. Roughly chop the coriander and combine.
  4. Add lime juice and salt to taste. Mix well, and leave sit for at least 20 mins.
* This is a ubiquitous salsa in Mexico, in the Yucatan you will find it made with Habanero and elsewhere with Jalapeño, seeds still removed. A great salsa for tacos, quesadillas or corn chips.

A good blender or liquadora is indispensable in the Mexican kitchen.

Salsa Roja | 1 star heat rating

6 Roma tomato
1/2 an onion
4 small chipotle chile
1 clove garlic
1 cup water
  1. Peel the garlic and split the chile to remove the seed.
  2. Using a comal or skillet, roast all ingredients barring the coriander until nicely charred. The tomatoes should be roasted though and the onion soft and translucent.
  3. Add the coriander and blend half at a time. Remember to take the centre piece out of your blender lid and use a tea-towel to cover as hot liquids explode!
  4. Combine in a bowl and add salt.
Salsa roja is a simple sauce that is sometimes used as a base for others (ie. Mole Poblano). It's also great as a nearly no-heat option if you're catering for the wary or unaccustomed.

The finished product!

Salsa Habanero | 4 star heat rating

4 Habanero chile
1 white onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic (toasted on a comal)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoons salt
  1. Remove stems from Habanero chiles and place all ingredients in a stainless steel saucepan.
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 20-25 minutes or until the carrot is soft though (containing the throat burning vapors with a lid is a great idea).
  3. Let cool a little then blend until you have a smooth sauce (as in the above recipe, remember to take the centre piece out of your blender lid and use a tea towel to cover as hot liquids explode).
This sauce is fiery hot and more for braver chilephiles. It will also keep well, so bottle or jar it and refrigerate to keep for a few months. If you want the lovely floral flavour of the habenero without all that heat, cut the chiles in half and pour boiling water over them. Steep for 2 mins then drain. Repeat, then use as specified above.

Post: Mexican recipes, Mexican Salsas

1 comment:

  1. We had some friends over for lunch on Sunday, so decided to make Sala Roja. Two words spring immediately to mind - Yum and easy.

    Tomatoes are only just coming into season, so are a bit watery - I think the fuller flavor we'll get in the next few weeks will only add to the depth of the Salsa. Once roasted, these give a nice caramaly/smokey base flavor to the Salsa.

    The coriander is clearly the central flavor in my version of this dish. I bunged in the roots and all!

    Now I have to admit at this point that i did substitute the Chillies for a teaspoon of "Calabrian Bomb". Now, the main reason I used this was cos it was in the cupboard and a chilly wasn't. This stuff is plenty hot, so i always use sparingly. In this case it proved a success. It left a nice, low tingle on the back of the palate once all the other flavors had fallen away.

    The recipe is idiot proof (which i believe i have just proved) and the tip to use a cloth to cover when blending was a appreciated (now i know what that little is really for!)

    For those time conscious, it took me about 15 minutes to prepare this Salsa, and 10 minutes of that was watching the tomatoes and 1/2 Onion cook.

    For so little effort a neat little reward!