Sweet Heat Salsas: Fruits and peppers are the hottest partners in the latest concoctions for raising temperatures.

July 15, 1998|By Beverly Bundy | Beverly Bundy,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Fruit is the hottest thing on today's salsa market.

Peaches, plums, watermelon, cantaloupe, papaya, pineapple, mango and nectarines are cozying up to chilies to create a mixed marriage made in heaven.

It ain't your grandpa's salsa, that chunky, jalapeno blend that's red from the tomatoes and hot from the chilies. Now, the haute thing is hot things in many tropical hues.

"First came the regular stuff we all grew up with - tomatoes, garlic and peppers," says W. Park Kerr, founder of El Paso Chile Co., one of the premier boutique salsa makers. "Then all the salsas started getting hotter. Now things have started moving back to the center. People want heat, but they also want flavor. And because chilies are fruit, they play well together."

Ten years ago, El Paso Chile Co. introduced Mango Tango (a combination of mango, papaya and pineapples). That pretty much sat on shelves in its high-end outlets, including Williams Sonoma. Today, the company's Mango Peach Salsa is its third-highest seller.

It's not just the fancy food folks producing these salsas. Tom Thumb's house brand, the President's Choice line, is bottling Tangy Salsa with Pineapple. Mrs. Renfro's, a Texas producer of chow-chow and relishes, is selling Mrs. Renfro's Peach Salsa through 7-Eleven stores nationwide.

Sharon Hudgins, the former editor of Chile Pepper magazine, thinks the new twist began in Florida. There, creative chefs were putting their own spin on New American cuisine, and tropical fruits added a native touch.

"A lot of the salsas that come across my desk are being produced in Southern states, the fruit-growing states," Hudgins says.

Hudgins says that one of her favorite combinations is mango with habanero chilies. The peppers she likes to put in fruit salsa are a little more tropical as well. Two favorites are datils, grown mostly in Florida, and manzana, a yellow, apple-flavored chili from Mexico.

Kerr agrees. "Habanero is really a tropical chili. Papaya, habanero and mango hold hands very well. One of my secrets, too, is to combine peppers. I'll use a green chili for round flavor, plus serrano for assertive sex appeal."

Not all combinations work, however.

"I saw a strawberry salsa once," Kerr says. "It confused me."

Watermelon and Honeydew Salsa

Yields 4 cups

2 cups small pieces seeded watermelon

2 cups small pieces seeded honeydew melon

1/4 cup finely chopped scallions

1 or 2 finely chopped jalapenos

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon sugar

juice and pulp of 2 lemons

salt to taste (optional)

In large glass bowl, combine all ingredients; cover and refrigerate until needed (no more than 1 hour). If desired, season with a pinch of salt before serving.

Serve with tortilla chips or grilled turkey cutlets.

Per tablespoon: 4 calories, 0 fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, 0 cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

- From "The Joy of Healthy Grilling" by Joe Famularo (Barron's, $18.95)

Mango Salsa

Yields 2 1/2 cups

2 cups diced ripe mango

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint or cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar, or to taste

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and gently toss to mix.

Correct seasonings, adding salt, lime juice or sugar to taste. The salsa should be a little sweet and a little sour. Mango salsa tastes best served up to a couple of hours after making. Refrigerate, covered, until serving. Good served with grilled meats and fish of all sorts and also as a vegetable side dish.

Per serving: 7 calories, 0 fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 0 cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

- From "Miami Spice: The New Florida Cuisine" by Steven Raichlen (Workman, $12.95)

Peach 'n' Pepper Salsa

Yields 3 cups

2 cups chopped peeled peaches

1/2 cup each chopped red bell pepper and green bell pepper

1/4 cup each finely chopped red onion and chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 jalapeno, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon each lime juice and rice vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

fresh rosemary sprigs

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serve with grilled Cornish game hens or with chicken breasts or chicken burgers.

Per tablespoon: 7 calories, 0 fat, 1 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 0 cholesterol, trace sodium.

- From "All Fired Up!" by Margaret Howard (Firefly, $24.95)

Summer Nectarine, Tomato and Red Onion Salsa

Yields 2 cups

1 large ripe, red tomato, diced

2 small ripe nectarines, halved, seeded and diced

1/2 small red onion, diced

1 1/2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint

1 1/2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 jalapeno or serrano pepper, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

In medium bowl, toss together the tomato, nectarines, red onion, mint, basil, cilantro, pepper, orange juice and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with tortilla chips or with grilled chicken breast or butterflied chicken.

Per tablespoon: 6 calories, 0 fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, 0 cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

- From "You Say Tomato" by Joanne Weir (Broadway, $15)

Papaya-Pepper Salsa

Yields 1 to 1 1/4 cups

1 large papaya, peeled, split, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/4 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/4 small green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 serrano chile, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon minced cilantro

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon orange juice

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl and serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. This salsa will keep for only 24 hours.

Serve over grilled tuna or just about any white fish.

Per tablespoon: 11 calories, 0 fat, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 0 cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

- From "Salsa" by P.J. Birosik (Collier, $10)

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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