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Duke's Food Obsession

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Turn off the AC and turn up the heat - it's time to make salsa!

Healthy Cooking- Blechhh!

Like the great grizzly, I find it easy to pack on the pounds when the weather turns colder. Unlike the grizzly, I am forced to wear clothes that get increasingly tight, do not have a thick coat of fur to cover the spare tire, and with beach weather upon us must occasionally bare parts of my body. Thankfully, my perfect wife talked me into a weight reduction plan. Yippee! Veggies! Low-fat foods! Exercise! But being a food person, I refuse to compromise on taste in what I eat. I love big bold flavors. Often, I read work-out and diet gurus who publish recipes that go something like “take low fat mayonnaise, mix it with soy milk, add some tofu, and finish it with non-fat milk and sprinkle on some Mrs. Dash.” (Who in the hell invented that stuff?) Okay, maybe that’s not quite fair, but you get my drift. So, Mr. Smart guy - what do you suggest?

One word - salsa. Just saying the word makes you excited. If not, stop reading this and go turn on Nova.

We of course know salsa as that unctuous red sauce that comes in jars and is served with the ubiquitous chips in the local Mexican restaurants. But salsas can be much more than that, can be freshly prepared quite simply, and best of all are almost always low in fat as well as high in flavor and vitamins. Also, if you ever wondered why the tropical and hot climates around the world tend to have spicier foods, it is because aside from chile peppers growing well in the climate, they and other spicy foods induce perspiration and therefore the body’s natural cooling system. So turn off the a/c and turn up the heat!

The salsas we typically see include tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, and maybe cilantro. But there are limitless variations. You can use different peppers: serranos, poblanos, habaneros, or even some of the dried varieties like the ancho or pasilla or chipotle. Instead of tomatoes, you can try tomatillos. In the late 80s, mango and pineapple salsas even popped up, kind of silly for my tastes, but popular, especially served on grilled fish like mahi-mahi. Salsas can be cooked or raw- salsa cruda. Let’s start with a variation on the simple Mexican pico de gallo (beak of the rooster) for a wonderful low-fat salmon preparation and then I will give you my favorite salsa of all time, the slightly cooked mesquite grilled salsa ranchera.

Pico de gallo typically has five ingredients: tomatoes, white onions, lime juice, cilantro, and jalapenos. I vary this according to preference by deleting the cilantro because it tastes like soap. Also, I add green onions, instead of the white, and I increase the amount of jalapenos by de-seeding them, thereby bumping the actual chile flavor but controlling the heat. Finally, I add a bit of olive oil, because it improves the “mouth feel.” If I am feeling particularly decadent, I add some diced avocados. So for two people, this would be: four tomatoes, one bunch green onions, juice of one lime, six jalapenos, one tablespoon of olive oil, one diced avocado, and salt to taste. Grill a nice salmon filet, and top it with the salsa. Delicious, low in fat, and pretty to look at. You will not think you are eating healthy!

Now, grasshopper, my absolute favorite salsa! For this you must build a charcoal fire (mesquite is the best). I make this salsa when I am already grilling something. I use a charcoal chimney and while the coals are still smoking, but quite hot, I put a grate over the chimney and grill/smoke tomatoes, white onions cut into chunks, and jalapenos. You should do this until the skin is blackened on all. Fear not the black stuff - it adds differing flavors. Now, chop in a food processor or by hand, salt to taste and add bit of lime juice if you like. This one I like to inhale with chips. But not while my wife is around.

Salsa, literally translated, means sauce, but now it is much more than that. Salsas can be blisteringly hot, or even sweet, but always should be exciting.

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Duke Diercks Duke Diercks is the owner of Duke’s Cowboy Grill in Ponderay. Visit his blog at www.bbq-recipes-for-foodies.com

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