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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2004

Celebrate salsa: Made with fresh ingredients, the chunky sauce spices up entrees, appetizers

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

How can you make salsa even better?

Make it with fresh home-grown tomatoes, green peppers, and chile peppers. If you like the jarred cooked version of tomatoes and peppers, with varying spiciness of mild, medium, and hot, chances are a fresh salsa made with ripe tomatoes, crisp peppers, lively cilantro, and juicy lime will thrill your palate.

When you make your own salsa, you can season it to your liking with more or less heat.

Fresh tomato salsa can be made year round, but there is nothing like summertime's tomato season for juicy, full-flavored tomatoes. The combination of fresh ingredients yields a colorful collage of bite-size pieces that hardly need any salt and pepper; salsas season themselves.

Here's a little formula that will turn just about any fruit or vegetable into a fresh-tasting salsa with a layer of flavors for any entree or appetizer: add chopped cilantro, jalapeno, tomatillo, lime juice, cumin, minced garlic, chopped onion, and a little salt.

During tomato season, make a classic tomato salsa starting with 2 to 3 medium tomatoes. (I find that fresh tomatoes yield natural juice, so I use a slotted spoon to drain excess liquid.) If you want a spicier taste, two jalapenos or one jalapeno and a little red chile pepper will give you natural, but not overpowering, heat. If you can find a tomatillo - a vegetable that looks like a small green tomato with papery husk (which is removed) - add one to the recipe; the tomatillo is optional.

With summertime salsas, there's a variety of tomatoes and produce fresh from the garden that add flavor. The beauty of a Rainbow Salsa using a combination of heirloom tomatoes is suggested in The Tomato Festival Cookbook by Lawrence Davis-Hollander (Storey, $16.95). Imagine the variety of colors with Aunt Ruby's German Green, Indian Moon, Limmony, Black Aisberg, and any of the red tomatoes for a salsa used as a dip or topping for tortillas or an omelet.

Sometimes you can find these heirloom tomatoes in the supermarket produce section, farmers' markets, or specialty stores.

Tomato Lime Salsa made with cucumber and avocado makes a great addition to steak fajitas.

Use Fresh Tomato Salsa with Breakfast Burrito.

Home cooks are also discovering the flavor of salsa lends itself to a variety of fruits and veggies.

During the past year, I've been creating salsas using fresh citrus such as grapefruit and orange sections; peaches and other fruits, and vegetables such as corn and black beans.

Strawberries also add flavor, color, and nutrition to a salsa. Serve Strawberry Mango Salsa made with strawberries, mango, red bell peppers, onions, jalapenos, and cilantro; use it to accompany grilled chicken, pork, or fish. Or serve with tortilla or sweet potato chips, breads, or crackers for an appetizer.

Green Grape and Tomatillo Salsa can be served in an elegant goblet or ceramic bowl for a summer buffet, or as a dip with chips for a night of margaritas and movies at home.

Use any of these fresh salsas in a taco salad. Any one will bring a wonderful, fresh flavor to the salad.

Fruit salsas also pair well with seafood such as grilled halibut and salmon.

Once you've discovered how easy it is to make a fresh tomato salsa or another variety, your idea of salsa will never be the same. Best of all, your family and friends will be impressed with how quick and easy it is to make such spectacular flavors.

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.

Contact her at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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