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From the Kitchens of Pancho Villa has been awarded the honor of "WINNER" in the "Cookbooks: International" category of the 2014 International Book Awards!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Make salsa at home - don't be intimidated!

You just had this amazing chile sauce at a nearby Mexican restaurant and want to make some at home....where do you start? It probably seems like some sort of magic that this sauce can only be made by 'Mexicans' in their restaurant. They are experts, right? You would be surprised! Most food at your local Mexican restaurant is the very basic of foods, red rice, beans, enchiladas covered in sauce and buried beneath a mound of cheese. Although you probably think this is complicated to make, they have a restaurant – so they must be chefs! Nope! Most come to the U.S. with one skill, cooking for their family. So they adapt their traditional family recipes to the Americanized version and voila! the U.S. version of Mexican food.

Most sauces are a combination of chiles, tomatoes (either red or green tomatillos), a slice of onion and sometimes a little garlic and a pinch of salt. Nothing more. There are a few creamy sauces that are usually even easier to make with fewer ingredients!

Don't be intimidated by those sauces. Many of my Mexican friends here in Mazatlán make up the sauces as they go, depending on the main ingredient of the meal, such as chicken, beef, pork or fish. You can do the same thing. I experiment with almost every sauce I make now on a daily basis. Some are amazingly delicious while others make you shudder. Even those nasty tasting ones can almost always be 'saved', so you aren't really wasting your time or ingredients.

Start by purchasing several types of dried chiles and a small can of chipotle chiles in adobo. For the dried chiles, wipe them off with a damp paper towel and put them into a small pan of boiling water to rehydrate. Count how many chiles you have of each kind. Only put one type of chile in at a time – dump the water and use fresh water each time you change chiles. After about 5 minutes of boiling, drain the chiles. When cool enough to handle, remove the stems and the seeds. Toss them into a blender and blitz them well. There can be some small bits but nothing big. Rinse the blender before blitzing the next kind. Do this for each type of chile you have, but keep them separate. For the chipotles, as you add the canned chiles to the blender, count how many chiles there are.

OK, now, cut some squares of plastic wrap. I use 6” squares. Use one square for the equivalent of 1 chile. If you have 6 ancho chiles, then use 6 squares. Just divide each blended chile into roughly the same size packet and wrap them up. Put each type of chile into a freezer bag and label it. They will keep forever in the freezer if you have wrapped them well.

The hard part is that was really hard!  

The first sauce we will try is a creamy sauce. You are having fish or chicken and want a great sauce. Personally, my favorite chile is a chipotle with it's smoky flavor. Since I am writing this, that is what I will use. Any of the chiles you just blitzed will work the same. BUT now that you have so many chiles prepared to choose from, why not make several different batches – small batches – and see which you like best.

You can use either mayonnaise or sour cream. I am not a mayo fan, so I use sour cream except when making the sauce for my potato salad. So, start with about ½ cup sour cream or mayo. Add a teaspoon or so of chile puree (or the whole packet) and stir well. Give it a taste. It will probably need a little 'zing', so squirt in the juice from ½ a lime or a bit of lemon juice. Stir and taste. Add more of either if you need. Stir and taste. I doubt you will need any salt but if you like, you can add some of that. Done. If you like potato salad like I do, and I make mine with cooked chicken cut into cubes for a main meal, I use ½ mayo and ½ sour cream with my chiles.

Making a red or green sauce is easy when you already have the pureed chiles too. Boil a couple of roma tomatoes or tomatillos for about 3 minutes, toss them in the blender with 1 small slice of onion and 1 teeny bit of garlic (like ½ a clove), puree then start adding some of your chiles. Stir and taste. Salt? Stir and taste. Use these sauces on chicken, pork, seafood or beef. Very versatile and very easy. These tomato type sauces also freeze well, but make sure to label them with which chile you used.

Once you make the first sauce, you can experiment with tons of other ingredients. Add some diced peaches or squished raspberries or blackberries to your creamy sauce. I know you have heard this before, but it really is true – you are only limited by your imagination!

Drop me a note if you 'invent' a sauce and want to share it here. I am always interested in new sauces!

Cooking is fun OR it should be. And food is one of the biggest pleasures in life OR it should be. And, remember, recipes are only a guideline never the rule.

¡Buen Provecho!

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