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Salsa: Versatile, Popular, Delicious!

Americans now spend more money on salsa than ketchup!

That's because the condiment complements just about everything: Sometimes it's spicy, sometimes it's sweet, but it's always tasty, according to Latina magazine (www.latina.com).

This month's issue has some first-rate salsa recipes.

Betty Cortina, Latina's editorial director, shared some of them on The Early Show Tuesday.

Salsa is usually a mix of tomatoes, onions and chiles.

WELL-KNOWN SALSAS INCLUDE:

Salsa roja, "red sauce": used as a condiment in Mexican and southwestern U.S. cuisine, and usually made with cooked tomatoes, chili peppers, onion, garlic, and fresh cilantro.

Salsa cruda ("raw sauce"), also known as pico de gallo ("rooster's beak"), salsa picada ("chopped sauce"), salsa mexicana ("Mexican sauce"), or salsa fresca ("fresh sauce"): made with raw tomatoes, lime juice, chilli peppers, onions, cilantro leaves, and other coarsely chopped raw ingredients.

Salsa verde, "green sauce": Mexican version made with tomatillos. Sauces made with tomatillos are usually cooked. Italian version made with herbs.

Salsa taquera, "Taco sauce": Made with tomatillos and morita chili.

Salsa ranchera, "ranch-style sauce": made with tomatoes, various chilies, and spices. Typically served warm, it possesses a thick, soupy quality. Though it contains none, it imparts a characteristic flavor reminiscent of black pepper.

Salsa brava, "wild sauce": a mildly spicy sauce, often flavored with paprika. On top of potato wedges, it makes the dish patatas bravas, typical of tapas bars in Spain.

SALSA FACTOIDS:

In Italian or Spanish, salsa can refer to any type of sauce, but in English, it usually refers to the spicy, often tomato-based hot sauces typical of Mexican cuisine, particularly those used as dips.

The salsas many of us think of are salsa fresca or salsa cruda, fresh sauce served as a condiment with a Mexican meal. The sauces are pureed, semi-chunky, or chopped.

Salsa originated with the Incas, as well as the Aztecs and Mayans. It was used as a sauce that accompanied venison, turkey, and lobster — not tortillas! The tortilla was actually introduced to the salsa in the United States in the early 20th century.

The first salsa in the U.S. was manufactured in 1917. The company was called La Victoria Food, and its salsa was named Salsa Brava.

Salsa reputedly became popular in the United States during World War II due to rationing, which made ketchup hard to produce.

There are more than 380 upscale salsa brands on the market.

As of 1991, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink reports that sales of salsa surpassed that of the U.S. staple, ketchup, meaning Americans spend more money on salsa than any other dip, spread or topping.

On the healthy side, salsas are low in fat, cholesterol, and calories, and their bold flavors are ideally suited to American's favorite summer pastime: barbecuing.

The key, of course, isn't just the tomato, but the chile, in determining just how hot you want to make it.

RECIPES:

Pico de gallo

This raw Mexican medley of chiles, onions and tomatoes is most often served with a side of tortilla chips. The name translates, literally, to "rooster's beak"; this is rumored to be named after the shape of the chiles found within it.

Ingredients:
1 lb. ripe red tomatoes, finely diced (with juice)
1⁄ 2 cup finely diced white onion
1⁄ 2 cup seeded, finely diced cucumber
3 tbsp. chopped cilantro
4 serrano chiles, seeded and very finely diced
1-1/2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄ 2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste

Preparation: In medium, nonreactive bowl, stir together all ingredients to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste. Let stand about 30 minutes before serving. Serve with tortilla chips or use in any recipe that calls for fresh salsa.

Makes about 2-1⁄ 2 cups.

Tomatillo salsa

Otherwise known as salsa verde (or green sauce), it's made with small, green, tart tomatoes native to Mexico and Central America, called tomatillos. Pour some over prepared pork, and you'll never eat your pernil plain again!

Ingredients:
2 lb. tomatillos
2 garlic cloves
4 serrano chiles
4 oz. yellow onions, chopped
2 oz. cilantro
1⁄2 cup water
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation: In pot, combine all ingredients and bring to simmer. Cook sauce 15 minutes. In blender, puree sauce and season to taste.

Makes 8 cups.

Courtesy of Las Vegas's Agave restaurant executive chef Matthew Silverman

Fire-roasted salsa

For a deeper, smokier-flavored salsa, take the time to roast the tomatoes first before pureeing them into a sauce. This one's great as a dip or as an accent over red meat.

Ingredients:
1-1⁄2 lb. roma tomatoes, divided
1⁄ 4 cup olive oil
1⁄ 2 yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
10 oz. diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. chipotle sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar, plus more to taste
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
Juice from 3 limes
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tbsp. fresh cilantro

Preparation: Preheat oven to 375°F. On sheet pans, place 1 lb. tomatoes and roast in oven until skins have cracked and tomatoes are cooked through. Grill remaining 1⁄ 2 lb. tomatoes until skins are black. In large bowl, combine roasted and grilled tomatoes. In large sauté pan, add oil and sauté onion and garlic until translucent and cooked through. Into bowl with tomatoes, add onions and garlic and remaining ingredients. In blender, puree salsa until well combined. Season with additional salt and brown sugar, to taste.

Makes 4 servings.

Courtesy of Las Vegas's Agave restaurant executive chef Matthew Silverman

Chipotle tomato salsa

Chipotle peppers are smoked and dried jalapeño chiles. And they retain all the heat of regular jalapeño chiles, así que, cuidado. Serve this one with sautéed veggies, such as nopales.

Ingredients:
3 lb. roma tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
2 arbol chiles
1⁄2 oz. New Mexico chiles
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. white vinegar
3 oz. yellow onions, diced
1⁄2 oz. cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp. chipotle sauce

Preparation: In pot, boil 6 cups water, tomatoes, garlic, arbol chiles and New Mexico chiles 20 minutes, then drain. In blender, place boiled ingredients and puree. Transfer to bowl, add remaining ingredients and mix by hand. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Makes 6 cups.

Courtesy of Las Vegas's Agave restaurant executive chef Matthew Silverman

Mango Salsa

Sweet, spicy and completely refreshing, this chunky sauce is best used as a topping on grilled fish. It'll give it just the right amount of kick.

Ingredients:
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. chopped fresh mint
2-1⁄2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
1⁄ 2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
2 ripe mangoes, cored, peeled and cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
1⁄ 4 lb. jicama, cut into 1⁄ 4-inch dice (about 2⁄3 cup)
1⁄ 2 cup finely diced red onion
3 jalapeño chiles, seeded and very finely diced (add more chiles or leave seeds in for more heat)

Preparation: In large, nonreactive bowl, stir together cilantro, mint, lime juice and salt. With rubber spatula, fold in remaining ingredients. Adjust salt and lime juice to taste. Let stand about 30 minutes before serving. Serve with tortilla chips or on grilled fish.

Makes about 2-3⁄4 cups.

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