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SIMPLE SALSA: Add a little spice to your party with homemade salsa

There is no better get together food than a bowl of fresh, homemade salsa. A good salsa recipe can spice up a meal and add a little life to your next party or tailgate (yes, it is that time of year again).

Chris, a friend and former chef, always shows up at our gatherings with a large bowl of his delicious homemade salsa. Give or take 30 minutes and the bowl is empty. Of course, he has no written recipe, which makes duplicating the taste a challenge. Michelle, my cousin and favorite cooking partner, and I have dabbled with it over time and I think we have finally developed a recipe that comes close. We call it Salsa Fresca and I’ve included the recipe.

If you don’t want to make it from scratch, jars of store-bought salsas line the supermarket shelves. It works great as a quick topping for beef, chicken or fish as well as a great accompaniment to crisp tortilla chips or any “South of the border” food.

Once limited to Mexican dishes, salsa (meaning “sauce” in Spanish) is breaking out of the tomato-onion mold with fruit-infused, spicy-sweet, smoky flavored and even Italian-inspired versions. While varieties of tasty salsa are easy to find at the store, they just do not taste the same as homemade. With the right recipe and a little preparation time, you can easily create a delicious homemade salsa that will have people coming back for more.

Salsa is considered a healthy food, especially when made with fresh ingredients. It is high in fiber, low in calories and it gives an antioxidant punch of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

Colors can range from red, green or yellow, and the different combinations of fruit and vegetables that can be used are endless. There are cooked and uncooked versions, as well as fiery hot to mildly delicious mixtures.

The most basic salsa contains chopped or pureed tomatoes, onions, cilantro and chili peppers, such as habanero, jalapeno and poblano, flavored with salt and a squeeze of lime. Add or delete ingredients according to your personal taste; this will allow you to use your taste buds as your guide along with your imagination and creativity.

Here are some ingredients you can use to add flavor, color and texture to salsa:

n Corn, tomatillos

n Black beans

n Avocado, cucumber

n Mango, papaya, peaches, pineapple, watermelon, blueberries, strawberries

n Artichoke, bell pepper

n Basil, mint, parsley, oregano

It is a good idea to chop everything about the same size that way every scoop incorporates all the ingredients. To achieve a balance between sweet, savory, salty, sour and/or spicy, add salt, lime juice or vinegar, bottled hot sauce and pinches of sugar, tasting intermittently, until you achieve that perfect mix. It is also a good idea to chill your concoction for an hour or two before serving to let the flavors meld. Fruit salsa does not hold up as well as all-vegetable salsa and should be eaten within a day or two.

You can reduce the heat of a chili pepper by removing the seeds and the white spongy ribs found inside the pepper. A chili’s volatile oil, called capsaicin, is concentrated in the interior ribs and is the culprit that causes it to burn. Try to avoid rubbing your face, lips and eyes after cleaning a chili as the burning sensation can be quite painful.

Today, I am sharing a delicious mango salsa recipe that mom Jane gave me. Friends Jim and Jere gave us five huge mangoes from their tree last week, which made our mango salsa extra special.

Diann Greene, whose column appears weekly in Accent, can be e-mailed at downhomecook@gmail.com.

MANGO SALSA

q 1 mango, diced

q 1 avocado, diced (see note)

q 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro (see note)

q 2 limes or lemons, squeeze for juice

q 2 teaspoon olive oil

q 2 garlic cloves, crushed

q 1/2 red onion, chopped

q Salt and pepper to taste (I use black, white or sometimes cayenne)

n Combine the chopped mango, avocado and onion into a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients; mix gently.

n Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Note: I use the same amount of avocado to mango (if the mango is large, I will use two small Haas avocados instead of one). Adjust the amount of cilantro according to personal taste.

SALSA FRESCA

q 2 medium tomatoes, chopped

q 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

q 1/2 small red onion, diced

q 2 garlic cloves, crushed

q One 4-ounce can diced green chiles or 1 jalapeno, chopped

q 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

q 1/2 teaspoon salt

q 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

n Combine chopped tomatoes, lime juice, red onion, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl.

n Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

n Makes 2 cups

SIMPLE SALSA

q 1 can 14-1/2-ounce diced tomatoes seasoned with mild green chilies (I use Del Monte or Del Monte Mexican Recipe)

q 1 clove garlic, crushed

q 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (adjust to personal taste)

q Juice from 1/2 lime

q 1/2 teaspoon sugar

n Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well.

n For a smoother salsa, place all the ingredients in a blender and pulse until the desired consistency is achieved.

n Refrigerate leftover salsa in an airtight container for up to three days.

n Makes 2 cups.

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