Sunday, September 12, 2010

tell me a recipe

I like seeing how people tell recipes.

I like written recipes for their ideas. A recipe in writing is about possibilities, the promise of a dish I might or will make. Oral recipes are something else. When I ask someone "How do you make this?" I am often seeking more than just the directions for a marbled bundt cake or a pork roast. Sometimes, the directions are almost superfluous. I am waiting to see what kind of narrative unfolds.

Not all people tell recipes. There are times when I have to content myself with the name of a cookbook, or the promise of a weblink. And not all people who tell recipes realise that they are offering more than method and instruction.

At times they offer context: food chemistry, food history. Other times, it's family history, or food as Proustian memory. And sometimes, it's a glimpse of personal history, of the way someone thinks about food.

I make salsa from a recipe Virgin told me. It isn't particularly complicated - more method than recipe, really. But she told it easily and vividly, punctuating the directions with references to farmstands and cooking outside on the grill, a brief gripe about being unable to find decently spicy food in Boston, and a digression about the joys of potato tacos.

A whole story lay in those details: a Californian who had had more than her fill of Northeastern winter, a longing for summer and sunshine, and some decently spicy food. Above all else, the desire to return home.

Perhaps it's not just the simplicity of this recipe, or its cold and refreshing appeal on hot sticky evenings, that drives me to prepare it by the half-gallon. The stories we find easiest to love are those that tell us something about ourselves.

I may not have encountered salsa of any variety until my mid-teens, but I grew up in a climate not all that different to that of California. I remember the dry heat of summer, the threat of drought and wildfire. Above all else, I know the desire to return home, and it remains unthwarted by the fact that "home" is no longer any point in fixed geography.

Tell me a recipe, and I will tell you mine. Home is where the kitchen is.

(No photos. Show me someone who can photograph a bowl of chunky red puree without making it look like a horror show, and I'll show you someone whose photography skills far outstrip mine.)

Decently Spicy Salsa

Miles better than anything out of a jar. To quote Virgin: "You could make your own salsa, for fuckssake."

(Makes about two cups. Will keep in a covered container for a week.)

Produce list: you'll need six Roma tomatoes, two red bell peppers, one large onion, four cloves of garlic, two jalapenos (or one, if you're not up for a really spicy salsa), and one lime.

Cut the tomatoes in half. Remove the seeds and the membrane from the red bell peppers, and cut into wide strips. Peel and quarter the onion; crush, but don't peel three of the garlic cloves. Leave the jalapenos whole.

Arrange everything except the fourth garlic clove on baking sheets. Put them under the broiler until everything chars and blisters. Allow to cool.

Put the tomatoes, bell peppers, onion and garlic in a food processor. De-stem the jalapenos and add those too. Throw in your fourth uncooked garlic clove. Squeeze in the lime juice, and add a generous pinch of salt. Pour in a glug of olive oil. Blend until you have a thick, chunky puree.

Pour the salsa into a bowl. Attack with tortilla chips.


Virgin In The Volcano said...

A few weeks ago, I made so much salsa that I had to freeze a half gallon. I wish you were here to eat it with me!

Cakelaw said...

I have never made salsa, but I bet it tastes so much better than the store bought version.

Lindsey @ pickyeatings said...

I totally agree that homemade salsa is the way to go. And I'm not sure you would want me to tell you a recipe, as I have a tendency to go off on tangents and tell really long and winding stories before getting to the point.

adele said...

Virgin - I`d be there in a flash if I weren`t on the other side of the world.

Cakelaw - Oh, it is. Much more flavorful, and not nearly as salty!

Lindsey - Oh, but the tangents and the long stories are what make it interesting. :)

Kelly said...

Love the imperative to "tell me a recipe." Perfect. Here's one:

I love the idea of charring/roasting the vegetables before you salsify them. Reminds me of a great Barefoot Contessa recipe for an eggplant red pepper dip: cut an eggplant, red onion, and two red bell peppers into one inch chunks, roast in a 400F oven with garlic, salt and pepper until brown and infinitely more tasty (~45 min), put in a food processor with a tablespoon of tomato paste (the genius move!) until all nice and rustically smooth. Delightful.

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