Living life between the barrel staves in Bourbon Country

Simple as Salsa

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It’s that time, towards the end of summer, when the garden really begins to give up it’s bounty. Around here that means it’s salsa time. In Kentucky it’s not until late August that the hotter variety of chile peppers start to flourish. Convential wisdom is you never plant anything you want to keep before Derby Day (the first Saturday in May). Even then, it’s a race to bring in a harvest of some of the hotter chile’s (like Tabasco’s) before the cold night air starts to cut off the plants’ fruiting. This summer with it’s unusually cool nights has been a particular challenge in the old chile pepper patch.

The recipe below has become the house standard, although many variations exist depending on what the garden offers up on any given week. Tomato’s sing backup here to a symphony of other flavors, and the English cucumber is a distinctive flavor that sets this salsa apart from it’s more traditional cousins.

Chez Honaker Garden Salsa

If you use a food processor to chop the ingredients, do it in batches rather than altogether. If you throw everything in at the same time the tomatoes will be pureed and the onions and peppers barely chopped. Of course, you can always cut the ingredients by hand into a ¼” dice.

  • 8 to 10 Roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 medium red onion, quartered
  • 1 red bell pepper, quartered
  • 1 English cucumber (also called a seedless cucumber), diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, quartered
  • 1 cayenne, quartered
  • 1 habanero, quartered
  • Small bunch of cilantro (2-3 tablespoons when chopped)
  • 1-1/2 T smoked paprika
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • Juice of 1 to 2 limes
  • Splash of red wine vinegar
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Quarter the tomatoes and place into a large food processor. Pulse several times until the tomatoes having been roughly chopped (don’t over process or they will turn to mush). Place a strainer into a large bowl and pour the chopped tomatoes into the strainer. Allow the excess water to drain out of the tomatoes for at least one hour (water in salsa is NOT tasty.). Quarter the onion and pulse until roughly chopped, then pour onion in a second large bowl. Repeat with the peppers. Dice the cucumber by hand (the food processor will just turn it to mush). Chop the cilantro by hand also (or pulse in the food processor with heavy pinch of salt – the salt acts as an abrasive and helps to chop up the herbs) and add to the bowl with the onions, peppers and cucumbers. Stir in the drained tomatoes. Add the juice of 1 lime and 2 to 3 splashes of red wine vinegar. Stir in the paprika and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Stir and taste, if the salsa seems a little flat, it needs more acidity – add the juice of 1 more lime or several additional splashes of red wine vinegar. This is why it’s important to drain the tomatoes, you want any liquid in the salsa to carry flavor and not dilute the taste, which is what all that tomato water would do. Let the finished salsa stand, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for at least 1 to 2 hours so the flavors can blend. Taste when ready to serve and add more peppers for a hotter salsa or a little more salt and pepper if needed. Serve with chips and enjoy.

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