secret ingredient

I started college during Summer term back in 2002, about a week after I graduated from high school. That very first semester in college, I had a roommate from Mexico. She was one of the kindest, most sincerely generous people I've ever met. There were 6 of us girls in the same apartment, and she was basically our mommy. And she showed her love through food. That was one thing I loved about her. Not only because I got to eat that delicious food, but because she really put so much of herself into it. She had such a passion for the food and for the people she was serving it to. And whenever people talk about love being the secret ingredient in good food, I think of Alejandra. She did just that.
She inspired my obsession with cilantro, admittedly and ingredient I had never used before I met her. I'd eaten it, but definitely had never purchased it. And now, I can't live without it. I grow it in my garden, and still have to buy more at the store by mid-Summer. And thanks to her, I can make a mean salsa. Still somehow not as good as when she made it, but it's still pretty darn good. And I always have to credit her.
I've made a few alterations since, and let me tell you why. It's not out of disrespect, I promise. They are by no means improvements, just alterations. That's the beauty of this recipe. It's SO versatile. She always made it with avocados, but they can very easily be omitted for a simple fresh salsa. My sister once added fresh sautéed corn and black beans, and it was AMAZING.
 But then, several years after I lost touch with Alejandra, the choir I was a part of got to travel to San Antonio, Texas. The heart of Tex Mex. I know, I know, I shouldn't mix the two. Alejandra made Mexican food, Tex Mex is it's own beautiful thing. And mixing Asian food is so not my thing, so I realize I'm being a complete hypocrite. But when you learn what I learned, I think you'll forgive me. My friend who is a total foodie and also a member of my choir went to a restaurant that I missed out on. He said their salsa was just like mine, but added the juice of 1/4 of an orange to it also. I was so curious that I had to try it. And there was no turning back. That tiny bit of sweet acidity added to the lime is a miracle!
And so, out of respect for Alejandra, there is no substitute for her secret ingredient, but I found one that made me feel a little closer to the perfect flavor she got out of her ingredients.

basic secret ingredient salsa
juice of 1~2 limes, depending on acidity and juiciness of the limes
juice of 1/4 navel orange, again depending on the juiciness of that particular orange
2 lbs sweet, quality tomatoes, diced (this time I used a combination of red and yellow cherry tomatoes)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped very fine
1/2 vidalia onion, diced small (or for color I'll use a red onion. But make sure you chop it ahead and soak it in cold water, replacing the water 2~3 times, for at least 30 minutes, to remove that pungent raw onion flavor)
kosher salt to taste

  1. combine all ingredients into bowl. Season with salt to taste.
variation additions:
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups fresh sauteed corn
2~3 large hass avocadoes, diced

1 comment:

Kristina said...

Sounds yummy. I like to squeeze some lime into my salsa. It really brings out the other flavors and adds just a little but of that yummy citrus taste.

We need to get together sometime so I can make you New Mexican food ;)