By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople.com
One of my favorite classes to teach is the art of sauce making, which is one of the foundations of the kitchen. I believe it's so important that I require all my students to write a paper on the history of sauces. I get the occasional frown, squinty eyes, but often after my lecture, a smile. All my students are amazed by the vast history of sauces.
Did you know that sauces have been used for thousands of years? Many of the early sauces were called relishes or salsa, and salt and fish entrails were common ingredients. Back in the day, sauces were used to cover the taste of not-so-fresh meat. Some things have changed, thank goodness, and some have not.
Although the ingredients have somewhat changed over the centuries and our freshness standards have improved, we still prepare most salsas the same way.
Some traditional salsas are cooked while some other versions, like pico de gallo, are eaten raw. Chopped tomatoes are combined with varieties of peppers then tossed with an acid and finished with herbs.
Note: If you choose to purchase salsa rather than make it, read the label. You probably won't find fish entrails in the ingredients, but some other ingredients on that list might surprise you! It shouldn't have many more ingredients than the homemade version. Food manufacturers will slip in added salt, sugar, oil, or thickening agents.
Though chips and salsa are a popular combination, remember that salsa just means sauce. Put some fresh salsa over grilled meats, cooked whole wheat pasta, or even plain yogurt. And no one ever said your salsa had to be just tomatoes and peppers. Explore making salsa with fresh and dried fruits.
Tips for making great salsa:
- Choose the freshest ingredients possible. Make sure there are no brown spots on the tomatoes, peppers, or onions.
- To control the heat of the salsa, remove the inner ribs and seeds of all peppers. Remember to wear gloves or wash your hands just as soon as you finish the task.
- Use a meaty tomato for salsa such as Roma, grape, or cherry tomatoes.
- You can make salsa in winter, too. Just use canned tomatoes. Be sure to select a no-salt variety and drain the excess liquid before using.
- If you are using a food processor to make your salsa, use the pulse mode. If you process too much, your salsa will become gazpacho!
- My general rule of thumb for a salsa ratio is: 2 parts main ingredient
- 1 part contrasting ingredient
- 1 part acid and/or herbs
- For example, a traditional salsa contains tomatoes, peppers, onions, vinegar, and herbs. The rule would be 2 parts tomato, 1 part peppers and onions, and one part vinegar with fresh herbs.
- This isn't a time for exact measurements. Be creative. Salsa recipes are very forgiving, so adjust as needed!
SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of " The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.