I’m not a summer person. Is it uncool to admit that you sort of hate sweating? Probably, so it’s a good thing you already knew I was a dork. New York City summers seem to be endless strings of heatwaves, and humidity so thick that even 82 degrees can feel like 105. Being pale and freckled, I seem to go through my body weight in sunscreen each summer, and still burn. Inside, the window air-conditioner units are always buzzing and always too cold; I consider summer something I must endure until my real love — crunchy fall leaves, cardigans, apple cider stands — returns in late September.
Or so I thought. This summer, something has shifted and it’s like I finally paid attention, and when I did, I realized I’ve had it all wrong. Summer is awesomely, fantastically busy, and with only the good stuff, long days and social butterfly weekends. We haven’t even put the kid to bed on Sunday night before we start discussing how many friends-with-pools/barbecues/ferry excursions/beach towns/playground sprinklers/grilled anything we might be able to stuff into the next weekend. When the heat starts melting your brain, and with it, any ridiculous attempts at dissecting something you read in The New Yorker that week, you get to instead have intense discussions about the ideal popsicle format, how to best fill water balloons, which beaches have the silkiest sand and who makes the best Aperol Spritz. (Buvette, you’re winning.) I realized that there’s barely a month left to summer yesterday, and felt sad, because we need more time. The whole time I’ve been kvetching, summer waged a quiet war on my view of the seasons (“Does fall have watermelon this good? I didn’t think so!” “When was the last time you saw a rainbow through a sprinkler in January?!”) and it won.
And you should too. My friend Danny is an excellent cook, which is good because when he met his wife, my friend Jocelyn (who you might already know by now), she used her oven for sweater storage, and thought it was strange that I did not. He’s always got a batch of homemade tomatillo salsa in the fridge, and he uses it on everything he can throughout the week. We came over one night with plans to go out for dinner and he was making chicken tacos on a George Foreman grill and we thought, “Really? This is what you want instead?” until we tried them, and have been nudging him to make them for us since. (Nudge.)
And this is the salsa he puts out at every party with tortilla chips, or at least I thought it was his. As should be no surprise, behind every great cook is an even greater one, and this in fact originates with his mother, Mama Canales-Garcia, a woman I haven’t met but am certain we would all adore because seriously, look at this. In it, you take the tomatoes you were probably going to use to make a pico de gallo and the avocados you were going to make guacamole with, and the shrimp you’d destined for a grill and combine them into an all-in-one salsa/dip/salad/taco filling/most requested pot-luck dish/ideal dinner for any of the al fresco heat wave meals to come. Summer is even more grand, it turns out, with this in it.
One year ago: Zucchini Rice Gratin
Two years ago: Sugar Plum Crepes with Ricotta and Honey
Three years ago: Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin
Four years ago: Peach and Creme Fraiche Pie
Five years ago: Sauteed Radish and Sugar Snaps with Dill
Six years ago: Red Pepper Soup (we love this, still)
Mama Canales-Garcia’s Avocado and Shrimp Salsa
I didn’t get a chance to make this with Danny directing me (on their wedding china, against their giant loft windows, sigh), so I made a couple bloopers. One, Danny doesn’t use jalalpeños, because he finds them unreliable (some are so mild they taste like bell peppers, some are so hot they’ll ruin the dish). Instead, he leaves the heat on the side in the form of Tapatio hot sauce. Always Tapatio, don’t even ask. Danny also shares my view that finely chopped white onions are vastly superior to red ones in salsas and guacamoles. Alas, three different stores failed to produce one, and red it was. I hope Mama Canales-Garcia forgives us. :)
Please, adjust everything here to taste. Maybe you want more tomatoes or shrimp or lime. You might want extra heat and no onions. This recipe is intended for your kitchen, you plate, your belly, so make it the way you’d like it.
Makes about 6 cups salsa
1 pound small shrimp, shelled and deveined or pre-cooked and defrosted
2 firm-ripe avocados, halved, scored into a small dice
2 cups grape tomatoes, quartered or 2 cups chopped tomatoes, drained a little
1/2 small white onion, very finely chopped (use red if you can’t find white)
1 small jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
Drizzle of olive oil
Juice of 1 to 2 limes
Handful cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Hot sauce, on the side
Tortilla chips, to serve
To cook the shrimp: Bring salted water* to a boil and turn off heat. Add shrimp, cover pot and let stand until firm and pink, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain shrimp, pat dry and chill.
Make salsa: Chop shrimp into small bites and put in medium bowl. Scoop avocados into bowl. Add tomatoes, white onion, jalapeño (if using, to taste) and a drizzle of olive oil. Add the juice of one lime, and a second one, if needed. Add salt to taste, then cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips.
* If you have more time, you can first make a shrimp stock with about 3 cups water, 1 cup beer or wine, the reserved shrimp shells, additional lime juice or the peels from the lime juice you’ll use in the salad and some peppercorns or red pepper flakes. Boil these together for 20 minutes, then strain the mixture. Cook the shrimp in this stock instead.