Roasted Jalapeno-Cilantro Salsa

Jalapeños are the most popular chile peppers in the US. This is probably due to the availability and versatility of the chile. Jalapeños have a balanced combination of flavor and heat.

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1-1/2 pounds (about 6 medium) ripe tomatoes, (preferably plum)
2-3 fresh jalapeño chiles, stemmed
1/2 small white onion, sliced 1/4″ thick
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup water
1/3 cups fresh cilantro, loosely packed, chopped
1 generous tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. cider vinegar

Heat the broiler. Lay the whole tomatoes and jalapenos out on a broiler pan or baking sheet (many cooks like to line the pan or baking sheet with heavy duty foil to easily capture the juices and make cleanup a snap). Set the pan 4″ below the broiler and broil for about 6 minutes, until darkly roasted — even rather blackened — on one side. The tomato skins will split and curl in places.

With tongs, flip over the tomatoes and chiles and roast the other side for 6 minutes or so. The goal is not simply to char the tomatoes and chiles, but to cook them through while developing nice roasted flavors. Set aside to cool.

Turn oven down to 425F. On a similar pan or baking sheet, combine the onion and garlic (separate the onion into rings) and set in the oven. Stir carefully every couple of minutes, until the onions are roasted (theyll be wilted, even have a touch of char on some edges) and the garlic is soft and browned in spots, about 15 minutes total. (For a smokier-flavored salsa, onion and garlic can all be done on a perforated grilling pan.)

For a less rustic salsa (or if youre canning the salsa), pull off the peels from the cooled tomatoes and cut out the cores where the stems were attached (be sure to work over your baking sheet so you dont waste any juices). In a food processor, pulse the jalapenos (no need to peel or seed them) with the onion-garlic mixture until moderately finely chopped, scraping everything down with a spatula as needed to keep it all moving around. Scoop into a big bowl. Without washing the processor, coarsely puree the tomatoes and all juice that has accumulated around them and add them to bowl. Stir in enough water to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency (salsas in Mexico are usually a little smoother and saucier than they are here — not very chunky or thick). Stir in cilantro.

Season to taste with salt and vinegar, remembering this salsa should be a little feisty in its seasoning. Pour into a bowl, or refrigerate and use within 5 days.

*You can use: habanero (orange or green), serrano, Santa Fe, Fresno, fresh pequin (go light; theyre hot!) Hungarian wax, fresh arbol, cayenne, Tabasco, as well as most small, hot, fresh chiles.

Recipe from El Restaurante Mexicano July-August 2006.