I watch a lot of sports. That’s what I do, who I am. I also cook a lot. That is also what I do, who I am. Rarely do my two passions collide as deliciously as when I get into the kitchen and whip up some salsa.
Salsa is the perfect sports-watching food, because you can leave it sitting there on your coffee table the entire night, and it only gets better as the flavors come together. When I watch sports I get a little manic, so dipping the chips into the salsa is a perfect way to kill time and fill my stomach. Also, salsa is as versatile as Jose Oquendo* — you can eat it with chips, but also on tacos, or on chicken or fish or steak, whatever.
Today, I am willing to divulge to you, my fellow Food Republicans, my most trusted secret, my own recipe for salsa. This isn’t going to be a recipe like most of the other recipes here, because I honestly don’t know the exact amount of each ingredient needed. It’s like painting a wall — I can’t tell you exactly how much paint you’ll need to cover that wall. But I can tell you what color you’ll need and what tools will be required. After that, it’s up to you to do your best.
That said, the most important thing is making something that tastes the way you like it to taste, not the way I’d like it to taste. I’m giving you an outline, you fill it in as your tastebuds see fit. Here’s the way I do it:
Lang’s Super-Secret Tomato Salsa Recipe
- Salsa is about tomatoes, obviously. You can get fresh tomatoes if you want, but I usually buy canned tomatoes. I know, Alice Waters is probably rolling over in her fertilizer pit right now, but whatever. For me, canned tomatoes are easier to buy and prepare. So start with a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes. Crushed tomatoes are OK, but they basically arrive without any texture, and with salsa, texture is a good thing. So get the diced tomatoes.
- Put about half that can of tomatoes into a blender or food processor, along with 5 whole garlic cloves. You might think 5 cloves of garlic are too many, but they are not, because you can never have too much garlic. Anyway, put the garlic and half the tomatoes in the blender/processor and zip it up until the garlic is obliterated. As great as garlic is, nobody wants to get a huge chunk of raw garlic in a bite of salsa. Except maybe Emeril. Bam!
- Now mix what you just made together with the rest of the diced tomatoes. Between the blended garlic-tomato mixture and the diced tomatoes, you should have a nice texture and base to play with.
- Next comes the vinegar, because salsa needs a little kick. I use between 2 and 3 tablespoons of plain white vinegar. Start with 2, and if you want it with a little more zing, use 3.
- Season it up. The key to my salsa is cumin. If you don’t know, cumin tastes a little like dirt, and I mean that in a good way — it’s earthy and organic and delicious. Most grocery stores carry ground cumin in plastic bottles, but if you can find them, get cumin seeds and grind them yourself in a mortar and pestle. If you use the previously ground cumin, you need at least two heaping tablespoons of cumin. If you can get the fresh stuff, you can use a little less, although if you use two tablespoons it will be dope. You also need salt, because everything in the world needs salt. I could eat a Moleskine notebook if it had enough salt on it. So go with a big pinch of salt, at least a tablespoon — more if you taste it and think it needs it.
- Now you need heat. I know most recipes call for jalapeños, but I don’t like using them because they’re so hit-or-miss — depending on where they’re from and how old they are, sometimes they’re mild, sometimes they’re fiery. So I usually use crushed red pepper flakes, the same stuff they have on the tables at pizzerias, because it’s consistent. I go with a tablespoon, stir it in, wait a few minutes, and then taste it. Add more if you want it spicier.
- The last thing I add is cilantro, because you need a little green in there, and fresh cilantro is something special. Buy a bunch of it at the grocery, then twist off a big handful, wash the heck out of it (it’s usually pretty gritty), and then chop it up pretty fine, stems and all, and stir it in.
That’s it. It tastes like tomatoes, but it has it all — spice and salt and sweetness (from the tomatoes) and sourness (from the vinegar) and earthiness (from the cilantro and cumin). Sometimes I’ll add some fresh corn, or maybe some chopped up onion, maybe even some pineapple, just whatever I have around. Even without those things, this is seven ingredients, and about 5 to 10 minutes of prep time, but it will be the best salsa you’ve ever had.
Or at least the best salsa recipe I’ve ever given you.
*Jose Oquendo made his debut for the New York Mets in 1983, but like a lot of players who went on to be great after getting their start in Flushing, Oquendo made his mark elsewhere. He spent the remainder of his career on the St. Louis Cardinals, where his versatility earned him the nickname “The Secret Weapon” from legendary manager Whitey Herzog