Far and away, the most beloved pre-dinner snack in our house is chips-and-salsa. Every night, while the grown-ups are do-si-do-ing around each other assembling something that resembles a meal, the kids are generally popping into the kitchen to dunk a chip into a bowl of decanted Trader Joe’s salsa (and ask, yet again, dinner almost ready? Mom? Dinner almost ready? Dad?) It would never occur to me to make that salsa from scratch. Even if the tomatoes were in season all year long, even if I had more time than the usual turbo-charged weeknight affords.
But when I’m on vacation, as I am now, it’s a different story. For as long as I can remember — pre-book, pre-blog, maybe even pre-diary — one of the first things we ever started experimenting with was fresh salsa. Even when the tomatoes weren’t perfect like they are right now, even when we had a perfectly acceptable jar of prepared stuff in the fridge, we’d make a point to chop up a few heirlooms, toss in some onion, play around with hot sauce and tomato paste and cilantro before striking the right formula. It’s so easy, in fact, that every time we make it, as we did last night, we wonder why we never make it back home. Of course as soon as we ask the question, we answer it immediately: Some things just belong on vacation.
There’s definitely no official recipe for this, which is another way of saying that you should have some spare chips by your side so you can taste and correct as you concoct. (Chef’s privilege!) But the basic idea is this: Chop up 1 or 2 of the freshest tomatoes you can find — heirlooms are best, but really any good summer tomatoes will do. (And chop them into smaller pieces than you see above.) For every cup of chopped tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons cilantro, 1 tablespoon finely diced red onion, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, dash of hot sauce, salt and pepper. That’s your baseline salsa fresca, but even that is flexible depending on how juicy the tomatoes are (and how juicy you like your salsa). Once you have your base, you can add whatever you’d like: corn, chopped yellow peppers, chopped peaches, pineapple. If your tomatoes aren’t quite as flavorful as you’d like them to be, whisk a little tomato paste into the red wine vinegar before tossing with tomatoes. Serve with chips.