Saturday, January 28, 2006

Salsa Derek and the Superbowl

I have been watching the Food Network--as is my way--and everything today is about snacks for the big game. Now anyone who knows me knows that I LOATHE sports (except gymnastics, figure skating, and sometimes Wimbledon in the summer, but I suspect those don't count). But anything involving teams and a ball, count me out...except when it comes to a Superbowl Party. Truly, I love any kind of theme party, especially one that revolves around fun appetizers and finger foods. So while everyone else is watching the big game, you'll find me in the kitchen, cranking out the wings and the cocktail weenies and the seven-layer dips and such. (I only come out in time to see if Mr. JT is going to disrobe Miss Jackson and scandalize the national viewing audience.) So in the spirit of foods for the big game, and as no Superbowl party would be complete without chips and great salsa, I would like to share one of my all-time favorites. And as I am immensely fond of "recipes with a history," allow me a quick reminiscence? Sit back,'s story time.

When I started my Ph.D. program in communication from University of Utah in Salt Lake City back in the fall of 1995, I didn't know any of my new classmates. They all seemed so learned and brilliant, and of course, I was worried that I would suffer by comparison! No doubt, they would find out that I knew nothing, and it was a mistake that they accepted me into the program in the first place, and that I would soon be asked to leave! But shortly after the term began, a very nice fellow named Derek invited all of the new students over to his tiny apartment for an informal get-together. There weren't enough places for people to sit, so we all pulled up a piece of carpet in a cozy circle, listened to some good music, and sat around chatting, laughing, and getting to know each other better. It was one of my best memories of grad school. And as is always the case, food is the glue that brings people and parties together, and at this particular fellowship, we were served (among other things), several different kinds of homemade salsa, prepared with much love from the host, who thereafter became known to us as SALSA DEREK for his wizardry in the salsa-making arts. Furthermore, we began referring to his wife as Salsa Anne, and collectively, they were known as "The Salsas!" (When they eventually had a child, we even called him Baby Salsa!) Over the years as we attended University of Utah together, Salsa Derek never ceased to amaze us with his spicy culinary efforts. For example, one of his most masterful combinations at a certain summer barbecue was a Mango-Jicama-Habanero Salsa that was to die for! (I'll post that one at a later date.) But at that first gathering in "The Avenues" in Salt Lake City, among several salsa choices, the one that captured my fancy the most was his Salsa Verde, a cross between a tomatillo salsa and guacamole (indeed, the Superbowl would be more aptly named the Avocado Bowl). Yum! This is my version of it, tinkered with over the years, that is a loving homage to my friend, and salsa mentor, Salsa Derek.

Salsa Verde (for Salsa Derek)

1 lb. tomatillos (10-12 large or about 20 small), husks removed, rinsed, cored, and quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 serrano chile, seeded and diced (if you are bold like Salsa Derek, use 2!)
juice of two limes
4 green onions, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro (leaves and tender sprigs only, cut from the stems), roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. of salt (or to taste)
2 medium-sized ripe (Haas) avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into large chunks

Add the quartered tomatillos, garlic, chile, and lime juice to the bowl of a food processor. Process by repeated pulsing until it is just shy of your desired consistency (I personally prefer it fairly smooth, but Salsa Derek left his very chunky!). Then add the green onions, cilantro, salt and avocado and pulse a few more times until the avocado starts to smooth out and thicken the mixture. Serve this delicious salsa with tortilla chips, or on tacos or tostadas, or on chicken or fish.

*Of course, you may play fast and loose with this. If you love garlic (and my own personal motto is "NEVER TOO MUCH GARLIC"), add more. If you don't care for cilantro, cut back on it.

Have fun, and enjoy the Big Game!

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