Thursday, December 4, 2008
An Ode to Salsa
Recognizable faces and shapes have appeared on a dizzying array of substrates, formed by jet streams and condensation, frothing oatmeal, rust, wood grain and now, salsa – my favorite condiment. Of course, no proper story about a salsa-splatter Virgin Mary could originate anywhere else but California. After living there for 5 years I can attest to the glories of California salsa. Thanks to the close proximity of so much amazing produce, the state’s Mexican food is often accompanied by a range of salsa as varied as these Madonna of the Toast tales. Pineapple, watermelon, apple, mango, corn, pumpkin seed, tomatillo, heirloom tomatoes – all of these flavors of salsa exist. Free avocado salsa so plentiful you can fill a cup and drink it? Head to Cancun in Berkeley (portion of the famous salsa bar pictured above).
So to Bakersfield, California, we go, where, according to this FaceBakersfield story, Elvia Alvarez was making salsa. Some of it splattered against the wall, forming what Alvarez immediately recognized as the Virgin Mary. Since it has appeared, Alvarez also says her house has smelled like roses, although there are no roses in the house, or neighborhood. Such a scent may come in handy if she leaves that stain on the wall. Odors aside, Alvarez believes the image to be a sign from God that people should learn to treat one another better.
As you can tell from the photograph, this is a pretty standard tomato salsa that Alvarez was blending, nothing more than tomato, chili peppers, onion and cilantro. With the exception of tomatillo salsa, I prefer a chunkier, rustic salsa, hand-chopped and mixed, so a recipe like Alvarez’s doesn’t come out as spicy ketchup. I like my salsa to have a bit of crunchy texture, so those spikes of cilantro, jalapeno and onion really contrast with the tomatoes.
While its carbon footprint is questionable, one of my favorite salsas to make in the winter is mango salsa, thanks to the abundance of cheap South American mangos found at my Astoria produce stand of choice. Let them get really ripe and then chunk them, scrape all the flesh off the pit with a spoon, letting the juice run into the bowl, add some onion, garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, lemon, salt, pepper and you have a top-notch mango salsa, good with chips, on fish tacos or dolloped into a bowl of chili. If you’re really lucky, some of the mango juice will run down your wrist, hit the counter and congeal into the face of Frida Kahlo.