Cooking Like A Mexican

Varierty of Salsas
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Salsas. It’s one of the first things everyone thinks of when talking about Mexican food. Not only are they a great way to compliment any meal, they are also great for appetizers, and as dips and sides. In Mexican cuisine, there are so many different salsas there are recipe books devoted only to them, probably because there are hundreds of different chiles in our country. I personally believe there is no exact number of salsa recipes, especially if we take into account that every family probably has their own twist to a common salsa or even their own recipe.

The main ingredient is not always the chile but it is what makes the difference from one salsa to another. The Aztecs had a very dedicated chile culture, not only in their diet but also as a weapon. Yes, you read that right. They would burn chiles and use the smoke as pepper spray or smoke bombs as we know them today. Another use was disciplinary; mothers would hold a smoking chile under the child’s nose when they were having a temper tantrum. Some shamans would use it as medicine too, and chiles were also used as currency at some point.

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A Mexican meal is not ready until the salsas are on the table.
 

Pre-Hispanic historians have also found a strong link between chiles, passion, love and sex. Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, a religious missionary who documented everything he saw, wrote in one of his diaries that Aztec men and women would do a very strict fast, excluding every type of chile from their diet, only to end in a ceremony for Tlazoltéotl. She was the goddess for carnal love, and whoever broke the fast was punished by her, harming his or her “private parts”. During the celebration, the fast was broken eating many chiles, starting from the mild ones, escalating to the spicier ones, until the hottest of the hottest were eaten and the people were sweating, crying in joy and red in the face.

Speaking of pre Hispanic cuisine, chicatanas are a special kind of ant that is typically found in Oaxaca. They’re bigger than the regular ants and come out during the rainy season. They are caught by hand, and have a big booty, also called culonas. Chicatanas are considered a delicacy and have a very particular taste. They were a main source of protein before beef, pork and chicken were domesticated and nowadays are regaining their popularity. Chicatanas are toasted and used in salsas, as the main ingredient in tacos and sopes, and ground and used as seasoning.

A whole encyclopedia could be written on chiles and salsas, and this edition I am keeping in mind the Superbowl coming up. Even a sad taco can be made great with the right salsa. The whole idea is for you guys to make some tortilla chips and these salsas and have a great time, but I’ll settle for store bought chips. NEVER STORE-BOUGHT SALSA, THOUGH. All of these take less than ten minutes!

Before we begin: all of the chile quantities can be modified, less chiles for a milder taste, more chiles if you’re feeling brave. Oh, and salsas are not usually seasoned with pepper, just salt unless stated otherwise.

Raw green salsa:

Ingredients:

10 oz of green tomatoes. Approximately 5 green tomatoes, peeled and washed.

¼ of a white onion, roughly chopped.

2 serrano peppers, minced.

1 small clove of garlic.

¼ cup of chopped fresh cilantro.

Salt to taste

Instructions:

In a blender, place green tomatoes, onion, garlic, serrano chiles and pulse until a rough salsa forms. Do not add water unless the blender does not work properly, the tomatoes are liquidy enough. Season with salt. You can add some avocado cubes for a lovely twist.

Seven chile salsa:

2 árbol chiles.

2 cascabel chiles.

2 dry chipotle chiles.

2 guajillo chiles.

2 morita chiles.

1 ancho chile.

1 pasilla chile.

1 ½ red tomatoes, diced.

6 cloves of garlic thinly sliced.

3 cilantro sprigs finely chopped.

2 epazote sprigs (fresh, and whole).

½ cup of olive oil.

½ cup of white vinegar.

Salt to taste.

Instructions:

Toast the seven chiles in a comal, with NO OIL. Make sure you don’t burn them though, and prepare to sneeze.

Devein the chiles and reserve.

In a sauce pan, heat the oil in medium heat, and lightly fry the garlic moving regularly, being careful not to burn.

Add all the chiles and the tomatoes and fry for three minutes.

Add the cilantro and epazote and fry for three more minutes.

Remove from heat and season with salt.

Blend until smooth with the vinegar, and strain.

 

Pico de gallo:

Ingredients:

3 medium tomatoes seeded and diced.

½ onion, diced.

5 serrano peppers, minced.

½ cup of cilantro, chopped.

The juice of one lime.

Salt to taste.

Instructions:

Mix al the ingredients in a bowl, season with salt. A little olive oil can be added.

Habanero salsa:

Ingredients:

20 habanero peppers, toasted.

The juice from one sour orange or a regular orange and a splash of vinegar.

Salt to taste.

Instructions:

In a blender, pulse all the ingredients together slowly adding the liquid, but making sure the consistency is still a little rough.

Ant salsa:

8 oz of toasted chicatana ants (can be substituted by crickets).

5 oz of arbol chile.

5 cloves of garlic.

½ onion, diced.

6 tomatoes.

¼ cup of vegetable oil.

Salt to taste.

Instructions:

Toast the chiles, tomatoes and garlic.

Soak the chiles in warm water to soften.

Blend tomatoes, garlic, ants and chiles together.

In a sauce pan, lightly fry the onion, until soft.

Incorporate the blended mixture and fry for ten minutes over medium heat.

Season with salt.

For some amazing tortilla chips:

You can use day old tortillas, a kilo sold at a tortilleria or supermarket has about 40 tortillas and makes enough tortilla chips for about 5 people.

Cut them in 6, as you would slice a cake, making triangles.

Deep fry in enough oil making sure they’re not stuck together to begin with, until golden and crispy.

Drain in a bowl lined with paper towels and season with salt or some lemon pepper seasoning.

Give’em a good shake and serve!