Over the years, I’ve become a bit of a salsa virtuoso. I point to my Mexican roots for precipitating the fondness for chile-based condiments.
Salsa, which means “sauce” in Spanish, originates back to the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas in Mexico and Central America, where sauces were made using tomatoes, chiles and a variety of other ingredients including seeds and berries, depending on availability and location. They encompassed sauces that were cooked and smoothed and those that were chunky and raw.
Growing up, salsa was on the table at every meal, right next to the salt and pepper. Whether it was my dad’s hot roasted green chiles mashed to perfection in the molcajete with garlic or my momma’s impromptu fresh pico de gallo with garden-fresh tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos – salsa was the choice condiment for everything from tacos to eggs to pizza.
Today, salsa still reigns. Although my definition of it has expanded beyond Mexican and Latin American cuisine.
So, when I got the chance to be a judge at Salsa Wars, Denver Public Library’s salsa recipe contest, I jumped on it. The event was part of DPL’s Street Food series in July, which highlighted food from Peru, Brazil and Mexico.
As a judge, I had the pleasure of tasting the six finalist salsas, and the task of picking my favorites. I was torn . . .
Do I vote for the more traditional Salsa Jefe with roasted chiles and tomatoes or the roasted tomatillo-based Garlic and Lime Green Salsa – both of which I could eat leisurely with chips while I have a cold beer or margarita? Or, do I vote for the Salsa Puttanesca with capers and anchovies that would be great on fish, but I wouldn’t touch with chips? Then, there was that darn Caramelized Onion Salsa that tasted divine but called for an hour plus to caramelize onions?
There was also the lure of ingenuity with the roasted beet Red Square Salsa – tasty but more of a side dish than a salsa? And, a green tomato salsa that appealed to the gardener in me.
Ultimately, I channeled some Iron Chef judiciousness. Along with two other judges – Chef Shellie Kark of Kitchen cue and Jesse Ogas of Encantada Catering, we selected the winners:
1st Place: Salsa Puttanesca-Salsa Italian Style – by Beth Hewlett
2nd Place: Salsa Jefe – by Rocio Rowland
3rd Place: Caramelized Onion Salsa – by Laura Kark
Red Square Salsa-Salsa Russian Style – by Beth Hewlett
Garlic and Lime Green Salsa – by Katherine Linder
Coleen’s Amazin Green Tomato Salsa – by Coleen Walsh
Below are recipes and pictures for half of the finalists. I cooked up the three (in bold) and made a few notes in italics. The remaining three recipes can be found on Chef Kark’s blog and her Facebook page.