In the 1970s, when we moved from New York to California, Mexican food was uncharted territory.
My husband and son Stu immediately embraced the new flavors, but my son Brad and I, unaccustomed to condiments, stuck to the burgers on our frequent forays into Fullerton’s Red Onion. (May he rest in peace.)
It didn’t take long, though, for us both to get used to what at first felt like scorching heat, so much so that when Brad spent his freshman year at college in England, he asked me to send him packages of enchilada and taco mixes so he could recreated his favorites there.
By the time we visited in June, Brad had finally found a Mexican restaurant in London – it was only the 1980s, after all – that he insisted we try. As we walked out, my husband whispered, “I feel like I just swallowed a quart of Valvoline!” Brad was so desperate.
But I digress.
For years, I experimented with different recipes for Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, only to hear from my family, “Why can’t you just buy that jellied thing in the box?” That is, until I came across this Crispy Salsa from Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger I found in a Whole Foods brochure.
With some adaptation, it has been my Thanksgiving staple ever since. I have been a devoted fan of Too Hot Tamales since the two were famous for their show of the same name that aired on the Television Food Network from 1995 to 1999.
In 1997, they published their companion cookbook to the show, Cooking Too Hot Tamales: Recipes and Tips from Food TV’s Spiciest Cooking Duo (William Morrow Cookbooks, $24.99), still available on Amazon. An entire section is devoted to salsa, including three-minute salsa, chipotle tomatillo salsa, and turkey tamales with fresh cranberry salsa.
While Too Hot Tamales prefers to use cranberries raw in the salsa featured here, I cook them, so my version is really a cross between salsa and cranberry sauce.
Before mixing in the cilantro, I set aside a small dish for my mother, who was intolerant of the herb. Turns out she wasn’t alone. An estimated 4% to 14% of the population — including Ina Garten and Julia Child — think cilantro tastes like soap, according to the Huffington Post.
Cilantro haters share a common odorant receptor gene that picks up the smell of the aldehyde chemicals found in cilantro leaves, and these chemicals are also used in making soap. Interestingly, cilantro haters were more likely to be of European descent, while, unsurprisingly, Spaniards were the least likely to dislike it.
Thank God I didn’t inherit that gene because I could bathe in that stuff. I buy it every week and cut it into every salad I eat.
The use of salsa can be traced back to the Aztec, Inca, and Mayan eras, who used tomatoes, chili peppers, and pumpkin seeds in various versions of the dish. However, it wasn’t until the Spanish conquered Mexico in the 1500s that salsa was introduced to the rest of the world.
Its popularity soared throughout Spanish civilization, and in 1571, the Franciscan priest Alonso de Molina called the dish “salsa,” which means sauce, gravy, or dressing in English.
Judy Barth Cansigor of Fullerton is the author of Jewish Cooking and The Perfect Passover Cookbook. Her website is cookingjewish.com.
VERY HOT SALSA WITH RED BLUEBERRY
This salsa can be made 6 to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated, but serve at room temperature. The recipe makes about 5 cups.
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 kilogram of fresh blueberries
- 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
- 3 oranges, pitted and diced
- 2 tablespoons grated orange peel
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (1/2 cup)
- 4 serrano chiles, seeded and diced
- 1 bunch (6 to 8) onions, white part only, chopped
1. Combine sugar and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan; stir to dissolve sugar. Add the blueberries and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until blueberries are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, 5 to 10 minutes. Using a spoon, break up any unpeeled fruit in the pan. Remove pan from heat and let cool for 30 minutes.
2. Combine the cooled blueberries with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix.