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Make Your own Salsa, Speedily

Food writer Judith Hausman shares her recipe for salsa.

Salsa, the get-started nibble at Mexican restaurants such as Coyote Flaco in Rye and New Rochelle or Kiosko in Port Chester, is now a household stable now -- almost as American as ketchup. With tomatoes in full swing, salsas are easy to make. Maybe not as easy as opening a jar, but you can start by opening a can if you are fresh out of fresh ones. In fact, these days diced tomatoes come pre-seasoned "Mexican-style," with onions and mild chilies that will give you a head start. Your salsa will still be much better with fresh tomatoes but the canned ones are a respectable alternative.

A basic recipe requires a chili, some limejuice and salt, a little minced onion, a little minced garlic and some cilantro -- with all amounts to your taste. Dark green poblano or ancho chilies are not very hot; red or green jalapeno or yellow-orange habanero (aka scotch bonnet) are quite hot. Be careful when you de-vein, de-seed and chop any of them not to touch your eyes or mouth. (I always use rubber gloves to handle hot peppers.)

Canned chipotle (smoked jalapeno and strongly flavored, so taste as you go) is handy to have around and you can substitute dried chilies, too, if you have the time to let them re-constitute in warm water a half hour ahead of preparation. Two people in my family cannot tolerate cilantro, so I use cumin instead. I like red onion but white or yellow onions or scallions are fine as well.

To assemble your salsa, chop any tomatoes or drain the canned tomatoes a little. Mix in the minced onion, chili, garlic and cilantro. Squeeze lime over it all and add some salt. Let this mix sit a bit to meld the flavors and then it's ready for corn chips. Pretty quick, huh? Try these just-as-easy variations, too:

Substitute tomatillos or green tomatoes for the ripe tomatoes to make salsa verde.

Add some minced fresh pineapple or mango or peaches or canned crushed pineapple.

Add ½ c. frozen corn or cooked fresh corn cut off the cob. This is a great way to not waste the random leftover ear.

Add 1/3 c. canned (cooked) black beans. This is especially good if you use chipotles.

Add any leftover grilled vegetables, diced small. Adding mashed-up baked or grilled eggplant and a little smoked paprika will edge the salsa over to a Hungarian or Bulgarian spread.

You can read more of Judith Hausman's work at The Hungry Locavore

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