So many salsas, so few winning trophies…

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche 

This past weekend, the Big Bend Brawl came to Fort Davis. The Big Bend Brawl is a day-long boxing tournament sponsored by the Alpine Boxing Club and the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce that brings boxers from clubs all over Texas and New Mexico to compete for trophies, medals and belts.

Local youth performed Folklorico dancing during intermission, and food and beverages were provided by the Fort Davis High School FFA and the Alpine Boxing Club. The Chili Macho Salsa Contest took place and winners were announced during intermission.

No sporting event is complete without “football nachos”… and I didn’t share… once a year doesn’t hurt, right???

While I ate my nachos, my husband had a Cowboy Burrito. 

On a whim, I entered the salsa contest. I’ve never entered a salsa contest before, and the only rule was to make it with tomatoes generously provided by our local tomato growers, Village Farms. I often make my own red chile sauce for enchiladas from dried chiles, and love roasting Anaheim chiles for green chile sauce. I’ve been making salsa for years… why not throw some salsa in a contest?

My usual salsa that I’ve made for 20+ years is a pureed blend of tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, garlic, cilantro, lime, a little vinegar, salt, pepper and a little sugar. Throw it in a blender until it’s smooth. Easy and tasty stuff. But for the contest, I wanted to try something different… why not?

With Mr. Johns as my personal salsa consultant, I was ready to jump in. I wouldn’t mind having a chile pepper trophy of my own, after seeing all of the trophies lined up on our friend Frank Lopez’s kitchen cabinets (he won first place again, by the way). Competition among friends can be fun.

We were grilling steaks for dinner, and decided to throw all the salsa-veggies on the grill first. Tomatoes, three kinds of chile peppers, garlic, and onions were nicely charred and ready in no time. I let them sit for a while, then got to chopping and dicing. We decided we wanted most of it hand-chopped, and blended about a quarter of the ingredients so it would have a little more body than just chunky vegetables.

I left the food processor boxed and in storage, and relied on the Magic Bullet blender and my favorite knife for this batch of salsa. While most recipes I found called for the juice of one or two limes, I got carried away and used three… they were so juicy and easy to squeeze… I forgot I was making salsa and not margaritas. Oops.

I handed Mr. Johns a chip with salsa on it, and his first comment was, “Too much lime, but otherwise really good.” Oops again.

I ate several chips loaded with the salsa and noticed it was very bright with lime, although I liked the flavor. We added a little sugar, but it didn’t really do a whole lot to calm the twang. I think at that point, it became “my” salsa rather than “our” salsa.

My salsa didn’t place, but I’m glad I entered the contest because now I have a new recipe that I can tweak, and there are several jars of fresh, homemade salsa in the fridge.

After the contest, I took a look at the other entries… two were chunky like mine, one was a creamy green and the other was a blended red. I spoke with a judge who told me mine was his second choice, but that all the judges agreed there was too much lime.

Maybe next time, I’ll leave the limes for the margaritas.


A Roasted Salsa Recipe

6 vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered

2 small white or yellow onions, cut into wedges

4 garlic cloves, peeled

3 Serrano chili peppers, stemmed (use less for a milder salsa)

1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use avocado oil because of its tolerance for high heat and mild flavor)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice (plus more if needed but don’t overdo it like I did!)

Using a grill, place your veggies that have been tossed in oil and salt on the grill and cook for about five minutes or long enough to char the skins and soften the veggies.

Using an oven, preheat the broiler and set an oven rack about 5 inches beneath the heating element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the tomatoes, onions, garlic, whole Serrano chile peppers and vegetable oil directly on the prepared baking sheet and toss with your hands. Broil until softened and charred, 10-15 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables and juices to a food processor fitted with the metal blade, or a blender. Add salt and cumin and pulse until just slightly chunky. If you left out some of the Serrano peppers because you were afraid it would be too spicy, taste and add more if you want more heat. Add cilantro and fresh lime juice, and pulse until the cilantro is chopped. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and more lime juice if necessary.


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