Online Advice, Take Two

Firefox has a first page feature called Pocket that offers a bunch of different possibilities to snare the procrastinating internet user.  Most of those (over the long haul) involve advice: clothes, home decorating, cooking foods/diet, fitness, health, etc.   Many of these Pocket advice articles start with or include a number: the five best (vacation spots, brands of work boots, ways to save on something), the seven causes of (success/failure/a bad health outcome/a good health outcome), the three worst (choices in foods, habits, mistakes in child rearing), etc.

Many suggestions are to paywalled publications, like this one: from the Washington Post, illustrated with a stack of salsa jars.

Once it was the best way to make “perfect” scrambled eggs, which is one of the silliest EVER ideas for an article…scrambled eggs being one of the easiest things to make, and customize in the whole cook book.  There is no perfect scrambled egg;  people like them different ways.  My mother liked softer scrambled eggs; I prefer them quite firm.  Some want them beaten up with a little water; others want milk; others (including me) don’t want anything in scrambled eggs but eggs.

But salsa…yes, there are good salsas and “I wouldn’t buy that if it were free” salsas (me personally, that is) and though I’ve made my own (out of chile piquins, home-grown tomatoes, home-grown onions, onions, a touch of this and that) and  eaten others’ homemade salsas at restaurants where they make their own, and eaten (with greater or lesser enjoyment) multiple commercially made salsas from jars…I have a few trenchant questions for anyone “tasting and ranking 14 top brands.”

To start with, Why do you think you’re qualified to rank salsas?  Where did you grow up?   If you didn’t grow up in Mexico,  Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Southern California…or did not grow up in a house eating Mexican food cooked from scratch by someone who’d learned it early, go sit down.  (If from elsewhere in Latin America, you can convince me with an ingredients list.  I’ve seen things called salsa supposedly from South America that…no…aren’t salsa to me.)

How much salsa have you eaten over how many years, and in how many different foods?   I’m over 75 and have been eating salsa…um…somewhere between 65 and 70 years,  more regularly since returning to Texas after a stretch in Virginia (lots of good food in Virginia, but not, when I was there, good chili, let alone salsa.  I used to put a big spoonful of Louisiana Hot Sauce (all they had) in a bowl of Virginia chili to get it to warm my mouth, besides it being made out of hamburger meat and not range beef in chunks or slices and cooked at least 8 hours until it was so thick a cooking spoon would stand up in it.

Did your mother or abuela make salsa?  Which kind?  With what in it?  (Growing up eating Mexican food daily or near-daily qualifies for full certification as a judge of salsa, as long as some of it was homemade or house-made in a small restaurant/cafe.)   Bonus points for that quirky salsa that someone in the family made with an ingredient someone else complained about..

Have you ever made your own salsa from scratch?  Who did you learn from?   With what ingredients in it?   How much of what was in it did you grow yourself?  What did people used to good authentic salsa think of your salsa (not the first, but when you got better at it.)  Could you get a note of recommendation from those people about your salsa?  Bonus points for making both salsa roja and salsa verde.  Confession: I’ve never made salsa verde because we never grew tomatillos.  We did grow all our own peppers, tomatoes, onions and cilantro when we had the big garden.

Note: there is not just one single acceptable recipe or flavor…but there is a range beyond which calling it salsa is heresy.  Catsup with a few [or many] drops of Tabasco Sauce is not salsa!   Salsa is a common food, not a delicate pampered special-something only for special occasions.  Salsa roja, the red kind, is used on, and in, many recipes, and can be made with whatever tomatoes you can get, whatever onions, whatever hot peppers suit your insides, from barely-hot to “removes all the mucus membranes from your mouth and everything south, while torching your sinuses clean on the way.”   (When I make chili this fiery, it’s called “therapeutic chili” in our house and burns out any cold or flu germs in said mucus membranes…you feel a lot better once it’s all gone, which doesn’t take long.  We don’t discuss all the details.)  Printed recipes mention jalapeno, ancho, and serrano peppers…if you make it with chile pequins, you’re toward the hotter end of the spectrum.   It takes a lot of tomatoes, onions, etc. to calm down 2 cups of fully ripe chile pequins hit with the blender.  But oh-my-goodness the flavor!!

We use salsa on eggs, burritos, meat dishes,  sandwiches (yes, peanut butter with a little salsa is delicious), mix it with beans, and sometimes with other vegetables, and add it to salads built around cottage cheese (chopped chicken or shrimp in cottage cheese with diced celery and a big glob of salsa roja.)   And these days I use commercial salsa all the time, because of the difficulty of growing a good garden when we have water shortages and hard limits on water use and the soil temp gets so hot the tomatoes won’t set.

Washington Post being a paywall source, I haven’t read the article, and thus won’t get a chance to judge the salsa raters, but I’ve had fun thinking about salsas I’ve liked and even those I haven’t.   My tastes in salsa vary with the season and what I’m eating and how my gut is behaving any given day.  Find one you like and use it in ways you haven’t yet…and then try making some that suits your taste buds and heat tolerance exactly.

11 thoughts on “Online Advice, Take Two

  1. Being English, salsa is fairly new to me, and, although I like spicy food, I’m not just so fond of the kind that clears out your sinuses! Nor, rather more to the point, is my husband. We both prefer our salsa, if we are going to eat it, on the milder side, and if I make it at home, it usually has fresh mango or peach in it as well as tomatoes, onions, chillies, coriander (cilantro), etc.

    If you ask for chili con carne in this country, it will be made from mince and have red kidney beans in it, and most probably be served with rice. Although the last chili I had came with a jacket potato, and was delicious, although my mother, sister and I, who had all chosen it, agreed that it didn’t have any noticeable chili in it! There is a happy medium between scorching one’s mucus membranes and being non-existent!

    A good hot sauce here is harissa – it comes as either a paste or as powdered spices, and you dilute it down with the sauce from whatever it is you are cooking (usually a vegetable stew with chickpeas and dried apricots, served with couscous, either on its own or with lamb chops, chicken or merguez sausages, which you can’t often get in the UK!).

  2. Hi – hope everyone is both safe and sane. So I have never been into Salsa but if your Mother ate it then you took it in when you nursed, not when you began to eat. But you have to be careful of looking something up on line with the 10 Best whatever. Most times the Best whatever is the sponsor of the website.

    Jonathan up here in New Hampshire

  3. My grandmother made something she called chow chow; I’m not at all sure what was in it because she wasn’t in the best of health the last few years of her life and I was young and wasn’t paying attention in the kitchen in the years she had a garden and canned things. I do know it had onions, peppers, and green tomatoes. I don’t think Granny knew salsa. Here in western Arizona we are blessed with family owned Mexican restaurants that make their own salsa and it’s rarely the same from one visit to the next. That isn’t because the recipes change. The heat of Jalepeno and other peppers and onions varies greatly depending on time of year and growing conditions. Onions especially are hotter if there isn’t much rain. Being in the desert, there aren’t very many local farmers that supply ingredients so they depend on things mostly from Mexico. Some salsa has tomatoes, some doesn’t, some has cilantro, some doesn’t. Some use raw ingredients, others roast the peppers first, and others cook the peppers and tomatoes together. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to heat so I’ve learned to be cautious. Assuming a writer for the Washington Post to be an expert on salsa reminds me of the Pace Picante sauce commercial years ago when the guys were offended by salsa from New York City! (I have it on good authority by locals here that Pace is NOT salsa!)

  4. The harissa that Annabel mentions is North African, certainly Morrocan, but I think used more widely. I was very surprised when I first encountered it as my image of African food was of a lot of carbohydrate, varying locally but all pretty tasteless mush, with a little meat and vegetable stew – of course it is daft to think you could simply define the food of a continent! I do agree about the usefulness of a good hot dish to clear out a cold, our favourites being a corriander and bean curd dish, and a hot and sour soup with a base of chicken or prawn stock both of which contain a lot of birds eye chillies; hot and tasty.

    I’ve turned Pocket off, too many sponsored links to life insurance, much of the rest links to article from the Guardian I’d already read.

  5. Elizabeth
    Here’s a non-paywall link to the Washington Post’s salsa ratings:

    I don’t think any of the judges were claiming to be experts–they were just looking for something that tasted good. I was surprised they didn’t find any Mrs. Renfro’s salsa as it is being more widely distributed up here.
    When my sister visits from Austin she usually brings along a jar or three of Fredericksburg Farms’ salsa.

    1. Thank you, Barb! Also for the mention of Fredericksburg Farms salsa…I’ll be in Fredericksburg next week and will see if local stores there carry it. Do you know where she finds it in Austin?

  6. I did grow my own hot peppers here in Manitoba. Carolina Reapers, Ghost, and an assortment of medium to hot varieties for flavour. I would cook the sauce outside and jar and can them. Last year was my last as the fumes from the peppers was causing breathing issues. I cannot even walk pass the hot pepper section of the produce area now. The flavour was important and then the heat. Surprised a lot of people as the heat would take a few seconds to hit them.

    1. When I made the first chile pequin salsa in San Antonio, I made the mistake of opening the blender and sniffing to see what it smelled like. COULD NOT BREATHE for long enough to be scary. WOW! I’d think using the really hot peppers has that effect on most people and probably gets worse each time unless you mask up (I think I wore two bandannas the next time and tried not to breathe in until it was all under water to cook. Also used less.) I’m sorry it’s hitting you wrong even in the store. It’s interesting that some peppers have the heat very much up front of the flavor and some have the heat coming afterwards. There’s a lot I don’t understand about hot peppers.

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