Monday, February 19, 2007

Roasted Salsa

Inspired by a recent episode of America's Test Kitchen, D and I ventured into the land of hot peppers this past weekend. The objective? Roasted salsa. We had seen an episode where they made some delicious looking huevos rancheros, but we didn't want to spend four hours in the kitchen making refried beans and salsa from scratch. Besides, I'm not really interested in eggs on my tortillas: just give me the rancheros without the huevos and I'm a happy camper.
We had been eying the hot peppers in our local grocery store for quite some time, but the most adventurous pepper we'd tried was the green jalapeño: not too spicy, not too exotic, and not a real culinary adventure. So we got a few jalapeños to start with for this salsa, along with a bunch of serrano peppers and two large yellow Hungarian wax peppers. I must admit that we didn't really know what we were doing: we just grabbed some peppers, steering clear of the ones we knew were super hot, like the habenero peppers, which looked amazing but also kind of scary. I like hot food, but... we wanted to go easy this time around.
We bought some fresh roma tomatoes and a new bag of small yellow onions. A brand new head of garlic, too, and we were ready to make some salsa. I kept thinking of the Seinfeld episode "The Pitch" with the salsa talk: "Don't you know the difference between seltzer and salsa?? You have the seltzer after the salsa! Salsa is now the number one condiment in America!" -- or it was, at least, in 1992. I would think that it would be ketchup, but D asserts that salsa, indeed, is most likely number one in the condiment race.

Roasted Salsa
Preheat the oven to 350º and begin preparing the vegetables. Slice all the peppers in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds and ribs. You probably want to wear gloves for this part: hot peppers can burn your skin, especially if you're overly sensitive or you get the juices under your nails. Another word of warning: even if you have gloves on, do not touch your face. The last thing you need is serrano juice in your eye. We used four jalapeño peppers, four serrano peppers, and two Hungarian wax peppers (also known as medium sized hot banana peppers.) For extra heat, I would recommend keeping some of the jalapeño seeds in: it's the mildest of the bunch but the seeds will still give you a good kick. It's unnecessary to leave them in, though, unless you're into that kind of thing.
Core six roma (plum) tomatoes and slice lengthwise in half. You can keep the seeds and juices in: we're going to blend this salsa in the end, and the seeds incorporate easily. In fact, they provide some extra cooking liquid, so removing them would probably be a mistake.
Remove the outer layer of a medium-sized yellow onion and slice in half. Keep the core on the onion -- just use a paring knife to remove the outer layer of the core -- and slice into chunks, lengthwise. The core will keep the pieces from falling apart entirely. Remove the skin from two cloves of garlic.
Throw all the vegetables in a medium-sized bowl and add a few dashes of ground coriander, one dash of cayenne pepper, salt and ground black pepper, and about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Stir to coat the vegetables evenly with the spices and oil. Arrange on a baking sheet -- with a lip around the edge -- or in a large Pyrex pan and put in the oven. Cook at 350º for about one hour, until the skins of the tomatoes begin to blacken and everything looks roasted and tasty.
After the vegetables are roasted, remove them from the oven. At this point, we discarded the serranos -- the hottest peppers in the salsa -- because we didn't think that we wanted the salsa to be too hot. We were right: even without the addition of the serrano, the salsa was extremely spicy and had a great kick to it. Since they all roasted together and got saucy in the pan, the juices from the serrano flavored the rest of the vegetables wonderfully and actually including them in the final salsa wasn't necessary.
We put the onions and peppers in the blender first and pulsed it with the juice from half a lime (about one tablespoon is in a half a lime, by the way) for just a second before adding the tomatoes and about 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro. Onions and peppers are more fibrous than tomatoes and thus need a bit more blending to become smooth. We didn't it to turn into soup, so we just pulsed the salsa for a few seconds before it was ready to serve. This was a perfect combination of peppers for us -- just spicy enough, but not a real kick in the teeth to eat. It has a really fresh taste, too, especially with the cilantro added at the end. You don't want to roast the cilantro, by the way -- it will just diminish its flavor and the fresh taste.
We served this salsa with El Ranchero Tortilla Chips. Called the "best chips in the Midwest"-- by Gapers Block, no less -- and affectionately referred to as "the good chips," these are locally made deep-fried pockets of wonderful. They can withstand the heartiest dips and are perfectly crunchy without being too hard. And you can not beat the price: $1.99 for a 14-oz bag of these is nothing compared to the other brands available at the store, which are too expensive and riddled with artificial flavors and too much salt. Another thing: you can buy El Ranchero chips with no salt, which is a huge plus. I hate consuming too much sodium, so no salt chips are a big deal to me. I wish we had some more salsa at home... I'd advise making a double batch of this stuff. It went fast.

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