There’s nothing worth eating in Texas that Lisa Fain can’t teach you to make better in your own kitchen, from perfect, simple carnitas, kolaches, and chicken-fried steak to breakfast tacos, frito pie and peach buttermilk ice cream, plus two cookbooks worth of wonders (drool break for the buttermilk and bacon fat flour tortillas from her latest) but my favorite recipe of hers uses only three ingredients and is addictive enough to put on everything.
Google offers windows into at least 3.8 million iterations of “perfect homemade salsa” — I mean, the red, spicy stuff we went through two jars a week of when I was a freshman in college — but I find most of them terrifyingly complicated. Many have nearly a dozen ingredients ranging from sugar to cumin, or call for very specific brands of tomatoes, like Ro-Tel, which isn’t particularly easy to find outside of Texas or well-stocked bodegas in NYC. Fain’s recipe shrugs at all this fussing, and tells you to go to the market when tomatoes are overflowing, halve a bunch on a tray along with a couple garlic cloves and jalapenos, broil them until they’re charred and blend them until you get your desired consistency and just forget about eating salsa another way ever again.
You can, of course, add anything you like to the mix — I usually cannot resist also charring half a white onion and finishing it with a squeeze of lime juice. Fain says she sometimes adds some canned chipotle and/or cilantro, and I know this because I went to the Greenmarket last Friday for the singular purpose of buying tomatoes, jalapenos and garlic for this salsa and ran into her, which gave me the opportunity to give her the third degree about ingredients. Don’t I sound like I’d be fun to run into on the street? Wait, don’t answer that. If you give this a spin at home, I’d love to hear if and how you tweaked it, and what you put it on. (Me: Eggs, always and forever.)
One year ago: Charred Corn Crepes
Two years ago: Charred Pepper Steak Sauce
Three years ago: Hazelnut Plum Crumb Tart
Four years ago: Summer Succotash with Bacon and Croutons (if you think you don’t like succotash, I think this could convert you)
Five years ago: Cantaloupe Salsa
Six years ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Seven years ago: Zucchini Bread
Salsas made with fresh, instead of canned, tomatoes have a complexity of flavor unmatched by anything in a jar. You can char these under your oven’s broiler or even on a grill. Although this is wonderful with just the three core ingredients, I like to add a halved white onion to the tray for charring, and blend it in, and finish the salsa with lime juice. A spoonful of chipotle from a can (more or less to taste) would also be delicious here, or a handful of fresh cilantro. Don’t forget to season the salsa well. Since jalapeños can range wildly in heat level, I recommend cutting the tiniest bevel off the end of each and trying it to get an idea of how hot that pepper will be. If it’s very strong, you might find you only need one here. Or five, if you’re my husband.
Yield: About 1 1/2 cups salsa
1 pound plum or roma tomatoes, stemmed and cut in half
1 or 2 jalapeños (depending on how hot you want the salsa), stemmed and cut in half
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt and pepper, to taste
Turn on your broiler and place a rack five inches away from the heating element. Line a skillet or baking sheet with foil and place the tomatoes, jalapeño halves and garlic on the skillet; season with salt. Cook under the broiler for five minutes (this, and all broiling steps, took much longer in my weak oven), or until the jalapeño and garlic have brown spots. Remove the jalapeño and garlic from the skillet and place in a blender.
Meanwhile, return the skillet to the oven and continue to broil the tomatoes for five more minutes, or until they have browned on top. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and add them to the blender, also pouring into the blender any juices that may be in the skillet. Begin to pulse on a low speed until the salsa reaches your desired texture; I usually add about 2 tablespoons water to loosen mine — you may need up to 1/4 cup, or more, for a thinner salsa. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Eat with everything.