This Smoky, Spicy Condiment Makes Everything Better

Towards the end of a season (where has summer gone?!), I often think that the most useful dishes to learn are delicious condiments and sauces. We've been in the summer cooking groove for months now, and it's very possible that many of the things we've been making routinely (grilled chicken, fish, vegetables, and meat, or some simple grain and bean salads, perhaps?) could use a little refresh before we get bored. That's where condiments and sauces come in. You can whip up a batch, stash them in the fridge or freezer, and they're at your disposal anytime you want liven up those simply cooked staples of summer.

I don't need to tell you about Pesto (though here are three great ways to make it) or other fresh green sauces; Nam Prik Pao (chile jam) and Nam Pla are equally deserving of a place in the rotation; and I could devote pages to various styles and merits of chile paste (here are 8 different versions). But the recipe I want to suggest today is not only bold, smoky and spicy, but takes full advantage of glorious late-summer tomatoes. It's Salsa Roja, and it's good on everything.

This is a classic Mexican red salsa made from soaked dried chiles cooked down with onions, garlic, and tomatoes. I like to use a medium-hot chile like guajillo for this, but if you want something a little milder, use ancho. Once the sauce thickens, it get a kick at the end from some cilantro and lime juice, and that's it. You can eat it hot or let it cool to room temp, store it in the fridge for a couple of days, or keep it for months in the freezer. (Actually, while you can make this salsa with canned tomatoes, it's not a bad idea to make a big batch with fresh tomatoes while they're still in season and freeze it; come February, you'll thank yourself).

When I say that Salsa Roja is good on everything, I'm only slightly exaggerating. There's really not a plain-cooked protein, vegetable, grain, or bean that wouldn't benefit from its beautiful balance of acidity, sweetness, smoke and heat. Of course, it's a welcome home for tortilla chips and crudités as well. (And not to spoil anything, but I think in Friday's newsletter I may write about this incredible grilled flank steak stuffed with garlic, oregano, and queso asadero, a dish that would take quite kindly to a heaping spoonful of Salsa Roja). See you then.

—Mark


SALSA ROJA


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