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Health August 2012

Rainbow Kitchen

Sumptuous, Healthy Summer Salsas

By Allison St. Claire

There’s a very simple answer to all those questions – fresh, homemade salsa. As tropical residents know – when it’s hot outside, rely on something hot inside – spicy foods make you sweat and cool you down.

It’s hot! Who wants to turn on the stove for anything?

It’s the height of tomato season! And peppers too. Who wants to turn down the multiple possibilities to enjoy these two favorite gifts from the earth?

It’s summer and the livin’ is supposed to be easy! What to make that works for breakfast, lunch, dinner or luscious snacks while keeping the prep and clean up simple and easy?

There’s a very simple answer to all those questions – fresh, homemade salsa. As tropical residents know – when it’s hot outside, rely on something hot inside – spicy foods make you sweat and cool you down.

Start with one bowl, one knife, a cutting surface, and maybe a food processor.

Gather together some tomatoes (or tomatillos – related to tomatoes, but tart and citrusy – remove husks before eating) and peppers (sweet and/or hot), salt, onions, garlic, lime and cilantro. Peel (if necessary), chop, mix (by hand or to a chunky consistency in a food processor). Voila – instant, easy, healthful salsa.

 

Nutrient base:
* Tomatoes and sweet peppers: good sources of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, folate, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, B6, C and K, potassium and manganese.

* Hot peppers: Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron and magnesium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamins A, C, K, and B6, potassium, copper and manganese.

* Tomatillos: good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamins C and K, niacin, potassium and manganese.

(You’re probably familiar with most of those vital nutrients these core salsa veggies provide, but maybe not manganese. Manganese helps the body form connective tissue, bones, blood clotting factors, and sex hormones. It also plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation. Manganese is also necessary for normal brain and nerve function. Nice to know we’ve got a tasty source for such a helpful friend.)

 

Where to use:
Breakfast: Enjoy with eggs, tortillas, burritos, toast or mild sausage.

Lunch: Consider it an alternative wherever you’d use ketchup.

Dinner: Endless possibilities – let your taste be your guide. Consider always having a bowl available on the dinner table for diners to use on whatever they choose. Baked potatoes are a favorite, corn on the cob, green vegetables, white rice, tortillas, fish, or bland meats such as chicken breasts or today’s commercial pork.

Snack time: With corn, potato, pita or veggie chips; on pizza or crostini; as a fresh veggie dip; or as often happens in my house – straight out of the bowl as a bright, spicy, fresh vegetable salad.

 

Now free yourself from strict adherence to someone else’s recipe:
Think and taste to the inner reaches or your refrigerator or outer edges of your garden or grocery produce section. Salsa is one of the most liberating foods in existence. If you like the taste of a particular vegetable or fruit or herb, there’s probably room for it in your own personal salsa.

Here are some favorite additions: Mango, avocado, pineapple, black beans, corn, zucchini or other summer squash. Depending on your preference or tolerance of mouth heat, experiment with various hot peppers from relatively mild chipotle to hot jalapeno to searing habanero.

And if you don’t mind turning on the oven a bit and would like a cooked salsa that will store longer in the refrigerator, here’s just one of star Mexican food writer Rick Bayless’s recipes.

 

Basic Roasted Salsa

 

3 big ripe beefsteak or 6-8 roma tomatoes

1 medium white onion3-4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

Roast as above; it takes about 10-15 minutes all told.

Cool, peel, and puree in food processor with:

1 tsp kosher salt

½ tsp Mexican oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1-3 chipotles en adobo, depending on size and your heat tolerance (start small -- they can be HOT)

Heat a Dutch oven or sauce pot, and add about 2 Tbsp of cooking oil (something bland). Dump puree in, and saute, stirring, for about five minutes over medium high heat. reduce heat, add water/chicken or pork stock to thin to your liking (start with ½ a cup, and add more if you like), and simmer for maybe 15 minutes.


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Allison St. Claire loves to dream about, study, grow, play with, prepare and ultimately enjoy eating great food.

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