It’s officially salsa season. No need to wait for tomatoes as there’s lots of good stuff at the farmers market and more on its way.
Salsa is Spanish for “sauce” and the traditional condiment is always made with tomatoes. But we Americans have expanded the definition to include a wide range of fruits and vegetables. The unifying ingredients — hot pepper, onions and acid (from lime, lemon or vinegar) — remain the same.
Fresh fruit salsas are bright and refreshing, spicy and sweet, a bit milder than the traditional tomato salsa fresca. Strawberries, blueberries, melons, peaches and cherries make fabulous salsas. (Raspberries and blackberries are too soft.)
Quick, tasty and extremely versatile, fresh fruit salsas are my go-to for chips; they’re great on grilled meat and chicken and especially nice with fish — whitefish and walleye — because they won’t overpower the fish’s delicate flavor, while adding a lively spark. Try them on cooked grains, eggs and roasted vegetables.
Double the recipe for fresh fruit salsas and you have a lively gazpacho to serve icy cold and eat with a spoon. Add a jigger of vodka or gin and turn this cold soup into a terrifically cooling appetizer or first course. Or toss crumbled feta or blue cheese into the mix and pile the salsa onto toasted pitas or bruschetta.
Unlike tomatoes, the sweet-tart flavors of these fruits can be overpowered if the raw red onions are too bitter or the jalapeños are too hot. Without those two ingredients, however, the mix is more of a salad than a salsa.
To tame the bite of red onions, steep them in lime juice or a little mild vinegar (such as rice or coconut, found at food co-ops and supermarkets) before tossing them into the mix. You can tamp down the heat of the chile pepper by removing the veins and seeds before chopping. It’s those veins that contain capsaicin, the component that provides the burning sensation, not the seeds. Adding a little sugar or honey will also help tame the heat while cilantro and mint help soften the sizzle.
As we ease into the heat of summer, remember that these fresh fruit salsas require no cooking and actually taste better after they’ve been made and allowed to “rest” so the vibrant flavors mingle a bit. Ready in five minutes or less, this basic salsa recipe is open to your interpretation. Once you have the quantities down, vary the ingredients to suit your taste and whatever you have on hand.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.