August 8, 2010
Considering that tomatoes are one of my favorite summer farmers market finds, I decided to buy a few today and use them for salsa.
Tomatoes themselves are not native to North America. They’re actually indigenous to South America and the roots of salsa (meaning “sauce” in Spanish, and made famous by conquistadors) can be traced back to the Aztecs , who used salsas as a topping for fish, turkey, or venison, and usually mixed them with hot peppers. Tomatoes, known as an “apple of love” (“pomme d’amour,” in French, and in Italian as a “pomo d’oro,” (modern, pomodoro) meaning golden apple, as yellow tomatoes were the first kind introduced to Italy), were not always accepted in North America. In fact, the Puritans held the belief that tomatoes were an aphrodisiac, and thus, they were shunned as a foodstuff. Later in American history, tomatoes were avoided because their leaves looked and smelled like deadly nightshade, a poisonous perennial indigenous to Europe. Thomas Jefferson was among the first to introduce America to tomatoes. He served them at a White House dinner in 1806 and later, planting several crops in his home at Monticello to use primarily in Southern specialties, like gumbo.
Despite its centuries-long history, salsa did not become popular in the United States until the second half of the 20th century. The first commercialization of the tomato-based dip began in the late 1940s with Pace Foods (Pace salsa is still in existence, by the way). Now, the consumption of salsa in America outweighs that of ketchup.
One of my favorite summer salsas, my own recipe, combines farmers market corn, jalapenos, tomatoes, and sweet peppers (if you don’t want to take the time to roast your own corn, Trader Joes makes a very good frozen variety, which can be thawed and substituted). The roasted corn, charred jalapeños, and cumin add a smokey taste, but be careful—this salsa packs a serious punch, and it’s a real sinus clearer. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, use only one (or maybe even a half) a jalapeño. I happen to like a lot of heat, so I add two.
Spicy tomato salsa with yellow peppers and smokey corn
4 ears of corn, equaling about 2 cups, or 2 cups of premade, frozen roasted corn
¼ cup olive oil
4 tomatoes, diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
½ small red onion, diced
¾ cup minced cilantro
1 lime, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
¾ tsp cumin
1. Preheat oven to 425˚. Cut corn off cobs and roast for 10-15 minutes, tossing at least once, until corn begins to brown.
2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat until hot, add jalapeños, and cook until charred and blistered on all sides. Remove jalapeños from oil (reserving oil), set aside, and let cool slightly.
3. When jalapeños are cool, use the back of a knife to scrape off the skin, and then dice.
4. Combine chopped peppers with tomatoes, roasted corn, reserved olive oil, yellow pepper, onion, cilantro, lime juice, lemon and cumin. Season to taste with lots of salt and black pepper, and serve with tortilla chips.