Chile Power – Feel the Heat with this Salsa Fresca recipe
Speaking of heat, did you know there is a scale called the Scoville scale that measures the heat of a chile in “Scoville units”? For instance, mild ones like sweet bananas have a Scoville unit of 0 because they have no heat, while the Habañero, on the other hand, has a Scoville unit that ranges from 100,000 to 300,000. That’s HOT. Penzey’s catalogue lists the heat units next to their chile powders, which is very helpful when you don’t want to be surprised.
Chiles are from the genus Capsicum and they contain capsaicin, the source of their heat. It’s an oily substance that can be VERY painful if it comes in contact with your eyes and skin, so always treat chiles with a great deal of respect. The substance they give off may also be a problem for people with breathing difficulties.
That said, chiles are the heart, soul and heat of Mexican and Southwestern cooking. One is not made without the other.
To handle fresh chiles, clean under cold, running water. You may want to consider wearing gloves if your skin is very sensitive. The seeds and ribs are actually the hottest parts of a chile, so most often, you will want to remove them before using the chile. A quick and easy trick for doing so is to cut off the top and bottom of the chile, stand it on its end, slice the flesh away from the core with the seeds with a small, sharp knife, then rinse under cold water. Much easier than trying to scrape everything out with a spoon. It doesn’t take long, so you can hold your breath while you are doing it if you have to!
Dried chiles aren’t quite so pungent and are much easier to handle. Scissors are always good for cutting them up into large pieces for soaking if you plan to puree them or add them to a dish. One thing to remember, though. Even though your chiles may be dried, the best ones to use are supple ones; ones that you can bend a bit and that don’t crumble.
Now here in the Southwest, salsa recipes are about as personal as your grandmother’s meatloaf recipe and are, many times, a highly regarded secret. They are also highly adjustable. Personally, I like the fresh ones the best so here is a recipe for Salsa Fresca. It’s from The Book of Regional American Cooking: Southwest, my little gem.
Salsa Fresca – 3 cups
- 4 medium ripe tomatoes
- 2 fresh jalapenos or serrano chiles or more, according to your taste
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions and tops
- 1/4 cup chopped white onion
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 1/2 tbs fresh Key lime juice
- salt & pepper to taste
Core tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze to get rid of seeds. Coarsely chop and place in bowl. Cut top and bottom off of the chiles; cut flesh away from the core. Rinse under cold water, cut chiles into julienne strips, then finely mince. Combine the tomatoes, chiles, green onions, white onions, cilantro, lime juice and seasonings to taste; let sit for at least 1 hour to let flavors blend. You may also add cubes of avocado.
Written by Susan Cypert, Phoenix Farmers Market Examiner at Examiner.com