Shortcut Red Pepper Salsa
I remember the day I discovered the best restaurant salsa. My sister and I begged our waitress for the method, and, to my surprise, she shared the basic recipe with us. All you do, she said, is roast tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers at a very high temperature until they’re charred. Then, you blend them. The oil the vegetables roasted in emulsifies with the juices when you blend. The char translates into earthy depth of flavor.
Even though I’m hardly an expert Mexican cook, I’ve read so many Mexican recipes that I know how essential the comal, essentially a dry heatproof surface, is to the cuisine. It’s on this platform where cooks toast peppers, aromatics, nuts, and other ingredients to give their ingredients char, which translates into fiery flavor.
But what if you could achieve that flavor without a comal, without so much as a broiler? You can, and it’s here. You just open a jar of roasted red peppers. (I’m the first to admit that this is a shortcut, not exactly the same, and yet if you create a path to homemade salsa that’s this easy, then you don’t have to buy jarred stuff, which is too salty and much too tangy for my taste. So…) With that shortcut up my sleeve, I created a jar of salsa that’s rich and sweet and very easy to make whenever.
With a good homemade salsa, two iconic snacks get an upgrade: chips and salsa and nachos. And since I promised you some posts about my obsession with the USA’s snacking habit, here are some thoughts on what it means when you can take a snack previously classified as junk and turn it into something so nourishing that it good enough to eat for lunch.
This is definitely the case with nachos. Subtract the fake cheese from the movie-theater version. Instead, top good-quality chips with fresh, vegetable-rich salsa, a few spoonfuls of refried beans, not a crazy amount of shredded cheddar, and scoops of yogurt. This plate of nachos is sustaining–and still completely delicious. For many snackers and snack producers, it’s those small changes in snacks that are helping to alter their status in our lives from throwaway indulgence to real food.
Liza Braude-Glidden, a co-founder of Beanfields, which makes chips made out of beans and rice, explains:
“If you’re a person who likes snacks, it’s only a tiny step to buy Beanfields instead of your regular snack. You don’t have to change your whole life. If you put that in your child’s lunch, they’ll have less fat, more protein, more fiber. You know there’s research that shows that beans create that feeling of satisfaction, ‘I’ve eaten something that will fuel me,’ you think. ‘This is something sustaining that will get me on with my day.'”
You might interpret this trend towards stacking snacks with more sustaining ingredients as a sign that your snacking obsession isn’t a bad habit you need to kick. Or, you might do as I did and turn that homemade salsa into a snack-inspired lunch.
What do you think? Do you prefer your snacks to have nutritional value, or do you prefer to associate snacking with indulgence and junk?
- 1 dried chile
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 4 roasted peppers from a jar, rinsed and dried
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- ½ pound fresh tomatoes (in winter, I go for cherry tomatoes)
- Juice of ½ a lime
- Heat a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until hot. Add the chile and toast both sides, being careful not to burn. Transfer the chili to a small bowl and cover it with water. Let soak while you continue on with the recipe.
- Add the oil to the pan, then add the onion. Cook about 3 minutes, until onions are soft and slightly brown around the edges. Turn the heat up, then add the tomatoes, roasted peppers, and garlic. Cook about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have collapsed. Scrape the contents of the pan into the blender. Fish the dried chile out of the soaking water and add that too. Squeeze in the lime and add a few pinches of salt. Blend until lightened in color and completely smooth. Taste for balance of flavors, adding more lime juice or salt as needed. This keeps for a couple weeks.