Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two Suicidally Spicy Salsas

I am a serious spice addict. One of my favorite food memories is of a Szechuan meal in Shanghai so hot it literally made me laugh and cry at the same time. I went back the next night for more punishment. In Costa Rica, I carried a little bottle of Linzano chili sauce in my purse, because I didn't want to run the risk of having to brave the famously mild cuisine without any salsa picante. In Thailand, my husband and I ate the incendiary mouse-dropping chilis (50-100K on the Scoville scale) straight up. In fact, wherever I travel, I make it a point to learn three phrases: hello, thank you, and make it spicy (phet mak mak, wo bu pa la, ha di peperoncino?).

So when I say these salsas are spicy, I am not kidding around. I suggest you start by making my super spicy salsas, and only attempt these if you think you can handle nearly twice as much heat. The first is just a twist on the Taqueria Cancun-inspired salsa verde recipe from that post. I eat it on pretty much a weekly basis (it's fabulous on eggs) and wasn't really thinking that it needed improvement. But then I found some intriguingly unfamiliar green peppers at my local produce market. They were in an unmarked box, and no one in the store could tell me their name in either English or Spanish. In the case of chilis, smaller is better, and these were some of the tiniest peppers I've seen for sale in the U.S. I grabbed about a cupful—for the bargain price of $2!—and quickly came home to pickle my peppers. Pickling intensifies the spicy flavor of the peppers and helps them last a lot longer without spoiling.

Explosive Salsa Verde with Pickled Mystery Peppers
The pickling recipe is super simple and comes from the Momofuku cookbook. I cut down the sugar because after cooking four or five recipes from the book, I've decided that David Chang has a much bigger sweet tooth than I do. In an airtight container, combine a cup of hot water (from the tap, not boiling) with half a cup of rice vinegar, two tablespoons of sugar and just over two tablespoons of kosher salt. Mix all those ingredients together until the sugar is dissolved. Put your peppers in. They should be ready to eat in a couple of days and last forever.

To make the new and improved green salsa, I simply added three of these super spicy pickled peppers to the usual ingredients, which have been tweaked a tiny bit since I last posted the recipe (one ripe avocado, handful of cilantro, pinch of salt, six serranos, juice of two limes) and blended it all to a smooth paste. Best batch yet.

For the second salsa, I turned to another Mission restaurant for inspiration. I'm obsessed with the super sour salsa at Poc Chuc (a Mayan eatery), and I've been dying to recreate it at home. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to get my hands on the magic ingredient, "sour oranges." I tried some bottled sour orange juice that I found in one of the nearby Mexican markets and it wasn't even close. Then, I happened to be browsing Epicurious for habanero salsa recipes and they connected the dots for me. Sour orange = Seville orange. Fortuitously, we happen to be in the middle of citrus season, so I ran down to Bi-Rite and bought a bagful of these beauties. Seville oranges, by the way, also make a fantastically tart dressing that stands up well to strong salad greens like arugula and peppercress. 

Once I found the magic ingredient, the recipe came together very quickly. This salsa will be incredibly spicy when you first make it, but if you let the mixture sit for about fifteen minutes, it starts to mellow out (and the onions take on a lovely pickled quality).

Mayan Salsa (inspired by Poc Chuc)
2-3 Seville oranges
1 white onion, cut into extremely fine dice
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 habanero peppers
Pinch of salt

1. Place the stemmed habanero peppers and the juice from your Seville oranges into a blender or food processor and blend until habaneros are basically liquified. Add oregano and salt and pulse briefly to mix.

2. Place white onion in a fine-mesh colander and rinse briefly. Then add it to a bowl with the habanero-orange mixture.

3. Let salsa stand for about 15 minutes at room temperature to allow flavors to meld.


  1. Oh that Mayan salsa looks so unusual! My mouth is watering just looking at it ...

  2. This is the kind of heat I like! :)

  3. What a great twist on regular salsa. Can you use this salsa like a regular salsa on tacos and chips?

  4. @Fried Wontons - do you mean the Mayan salsa? Yes, just use it exactly as you would use a normal salsa. We had ours over tacos, but with chips would be fine too. We also had it over grilled pork chops the next night. It is really fantastic with everything!

  5. Unfamiliar?

    Those clearly look like large thai chili peppers.

  6. The photo messes with the scale a bit, but the mystery peppers are both firmer and smaller than the bird's eyes I've bought in the U.S. (closer in size to the ones we saw in Thailand, which are a different varietal). Eaten raw, they were also significantly hotter than the bird's eyes I normally buy.


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