Salsa can spice up summer meals

Food

August 05, 2007|By SANDRA PINCKNEY

Ah, the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are here, and gardens are overflowing with fresh vegetables.

I went all out this year - planting boxes with turnip, mustard and tender greens, bell peppers, jalapenos, eggplant, tomatoes, scallions, onions, cucumbers and squash.

Even though I just planted a few of each vegetable, the harvest is already plentiful.

What am I going to do with all this stuff?

My grandmother knew just what to do. What she did not use for her family or give away, she canned.

Produce, straight from the garden, was washed, prepped and processed for the long New England winter - empty Mason jars boiling in one big white porcelain pot to sterilize them. The tops and the rubber rings would be boiling in another pot.

My grandmother would carefully pack her tomatoes into the sterilized jars, which were then lidded and boiled again until they were hermetically sealed.

String beans would be processed by steam. Washed, snapped, packed in Mason jars, they would then be steam-canned in what then looked like a gigantic pressure cooker.

It was an amazing thing to watch, but it is far too complicated to re-create.

My granddaddy was in charge of the pickling.

He pickled peppers and cucumbers using lots of garlic, vinegar, and salt. The peppers were those round, red, tomato-shaped ones and those green and red ones that are shaped more like jalapenos.

Try as I may, I have not been able to re-create his recipe - not yet.

But I have come up with some ideas for my garden surplus: For example, make a tasty salsa.

Salsa, the Spanish word for sauce, is traditionally made from tomatoes flavored with cilantro, chilies and onions. Think of the little dishes of pico de gallo, served with chips in Mexican restaurants.

But this cold, chunky mixture can include other ingredients - as long as they are fresh. I love cucumbers, garlic and orange and yellow bell peppers.

Instead of serving salsa as a dip, I prefer serving it as a side salad. It's easy to prepare, easy on the budget and the perfect complement to summer foods - grilled meats, fish and my all time favorite Caribbean recipe, spicy black beans.

The great thing about the salsa is that you can make it up fresh every day.

The salsa is so easy to make and so delicious.

I have offered several different ways to prepare my black bean dish, depending on how much time you have on your hands - one you can start in a crock pot in the morning, and it will be ready when you get home from work. Another you can put together after work using a pressure cooker. Yet another is much more involved and is perfect for the weekend or on days when you have more time.

Make a pot of rice, preferably brown rice (which is much more healthful than white rice), and you have a nourishing and filling family meal.

Add salsa to add more flavor to the meal.

Then put on some calypso music, set a colorful table and have a scrumptious summer feast.

unisun@baltsun.com

Fresh cucumber salsa

Serves 6

1 English cucumber (chopped)

1/2 Vidalia onion (chopped fine)

3-4 cloves garlic(minced)

1 jalapeno pepper (cut out ribs and seeds), minced

4 tablespoons cilantro

1 yellow or orange bell pepper (chopped)

Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

Fresh lime juice

To chopped cucumber, add onions, garlic, cilantro, bell pepper, ground pepper and salt. Mix lightly, add fresh lime juice to taste. Serve.

TIP

Garlic is much easier to mince when you add kosher salt. Try it -- you will be amazed.

Calories per serving: 21; .76 g protein; 4.7 g carbohydrates; .16 g fat; 4.26 g sodium

Spicy black beans

Serves 6

1 pound bag dry black beans

Olive oil

1 medium onion chopped fine

1 red bell pepper

4-5 cloves garlic to taste

1 teaspoon oregano leaves

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 packet Goya Sazon seasoning

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)

1 teaspoon hot sauce (to taste)

Drain and rinse beans. Put them in a large saucepan, cover in 8 cups of fresh water.

In a skillet, saute onion and pepper in olive oil over medium heat until onions are tender and translucent. Add garlic and oregano when onions begin to brown; continue to saute for a few minutes -- do not allow the garlic to brown. Remove from heat.

Add pepper flakes, paprika, black pepper and hot sauce. Add a good shake of Goya Sazon seasoning. Stir mixture into beans. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Simmer until beans are tender.

This will take about an hour and a half. Season to taste (now you can add the salt) and serve with rice or cornbread.

SLOW COOK

Soak beans overnight and put everything (except the salt) into the crock pot in the morning. Set on low and cook for 8 hours, or until beans are tender. Correct seasoning (now you can add salt) and enjoy.

FAST COOK

Can be prepared in under 30 minutes in a pressure cooker.

Saute onions, then add pre-soaked beans to pressure cooker, cover with water and remaining ingredients (except salt), cover and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to sit for an additional 10 minutes.

Season to taste (salt) and serve.

TIPS

Before cooking, spread the beans on a tray and remove imperfect ones and any foreign matter. Place in a colander and rinse in cold running water. Cooking in salt toughens beans; always add it last. Soaking reduces cooking time.

Overnight soaking: You can soak the beans in a large pot; cover with 6-8 cups water overnight.

Remember: Beans will expand to several times their original size.

Quick soak: Bring the beans to a boil in 6-8 cups of water for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and set aside for an hour.

Rice: Use a few shakes of the Sazon Goya seasoning as you are cooking rice to turn it into a festive Caribbean saffron color.

Meat: If you wish, you may add a smoked turkey part, or a ham hock at the beginning of cooking time. Smoked sausage is also good.

Calories per serving: 277; 17 g protein; 47 g carbohydrates; 3 g fat; 690 mg sodium

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