What's sauce for the goose is a little hotter these days

September 01, 1996|By Rob Kasper

THERE WAS A TIME when I didn't believe the salsa stats. Those were the statistics that first surfaced about five years ago saying that salsa was the nation's leading condiment, overtaking ketchup.

The primary reason I had a hard time swallowing the statistics was that our kids were about 10 and 6 years old at the time, and ketchup ruled our existence. Ketchup was a constant companion. It showed up at every lunch and dinner. It traveled with us, in the car, in those little foil packages picked up at fast-food joints. It was always in the house, in bulk -- a big, squeezeable container resting inside the fridge, and one or two backups in the pantry.

It was applied to the surface of virtually anything edible: burgers, fish sticks, chicken bits. I don't remember ketchup ever making an appearance at the breakfast table. But the ketchup phase of our life was awhile back, and, thankfully, you tend to forget the darker moments of parenthood.

I do recall, however, sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner where one of the kids, then about 6 years old, surveyed the family feast. He saw the bronzed turkey, the steaming corn-bread stuffing, the homemade rolls, the hominy casserole, the jiggling cranberry jelly and the mound of sweet potatoes. A familiar friend of his was missing from the scene. Where, he asked, was the ketchup?

In my heart, I felt that the presence of ketchup would degrade the sacred Thanksgiving table. But when you have small children, you tend to loosen your rigid views, to compromise, to give in. You do nearly anything to keep the peace and everyone in a good mood. The Republican Party calls it the "big tent philosophy." I call it the "big table philosophy."

So on that Thanksgiving Day, I brought the kid some ketchup, but insisted that it appear on the table in a small serving bowl, not in a plastic squeeze bottle.

Since then, our family, like most American families, has become increasingly salsa-friendly. We put salsa on tacos. We put salsa on microwaved burritos, on burgers, on steak, on grilled rockfish at least those of us who eat fish.

I won't claim that the kids, now 15 and 11, have developed "salsa palates." But they do have their favorites. My kids, who, in my view, lead active, interesting lives, prefer low-flame, no-risk salsas. Meanwhile, my wife and I, like most adults, lead low-voltage lives. We tend to favor spicy, exotic salsas. Some nights, when I am feeling frisky, I make my own salsa, occasionally substituting fruit for the tomatoes. Making a salsa out of nectarines is my idea of a walk on the wild side.

But most of the time I stick to basic salsa, made with tomatoes, chilies, cilantro, lime juice and salt.

The other night there was a minor condiment crisis in our home when we ran out of salsa, both the high-voltage, adults-only type, and the kid-friendly version.

So I made a batch of salsa, using tomatoes from the garden. The home-grown tomatoes helped the flavor. On the whole it was pretty mild stuff, but it was better than ketchup.

Here's a recipe from "The Thrill of the Grill," by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (1990, Morrow, $25).

Hot red salsa

Makes 2 cups

4 large, ripe tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup lime juice

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 medium red onion, diced small

4 small, fresh red or green jalapeno chili peppers, finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a bowl, mix well. Salsa will keep up to three days, covered, in the refrigerator.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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