As I mentioned in my previous post, I love Mexican food, in particular, chips and salsa. I could live on them. Seriously. I had some at lunch a couple days ago. And dinner. And also dinner last night. (I think I might need help) Whenever I go to Mexican fast food places such as Baja Fresh or La Salsa where they have salsa bars, my greed really kicks in. I've been known to stock up on all my choices and then some, walking away with little towers of plastic containers filled with pico de gallo, salsa verde, salsa roja, and salsa whathaveyou, to go along with my meal.
So when I was conceptualizing Annie's birthday fiesta, I sort of began by planning everything around the idea of a trio of salsas. Since a simple salsa of fresh diced tomatoes, onions and jalapeno feels really summery and here were are in February, I wanted the salsas to feel a little heartier, not quite so light - more appropriate for winter. I found this recipe on one of my favorite food related websites, Chow. I liked that the tomatoes get blistered and charred until black under the broiler and instead of fresh chilies like jalepeno or serrano, it uses two different dried peppers - pasilla and chiles de arbol. I would finally have something to do with the huge bag of chiles de arbol that Suzanne Goin made me buy. What really sold me on it was the fact that it also, for some crazy reason, includes toasted pumpkin seeds. It just sounded really unique.
As the birthday dinner drew closer, I actually sort of ran out of time and didn't get a chance to make it for the party. Since I'd already gotten all the ingredients, I went ahead and made it the next day and it was just as well. Now I wouldn't have to share.
5 medium roma tomatoes, cored, seeded and halved
10 dried chilies de arbol, stemmed, halved, and seeded
2 teaspoons ground dried pasilla peppers
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons shelled unsalted pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1⁄4 cup minced scallions
1⁄4 cup chopped cilantro
Heat broiler. Place the tomatoes skin side up on a baking sheet. When the broiler is hot, char the tomatoes until the skins are slightly burned. It should take just a few minutes. Remove the tomatoes from oven and place them in a stainless-steel pot. Add the chili de arbol, pasilla, salt, sugar, and 1 1⁄2 cups water.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring often.
While the tomato mixture is cooking, turn oven to 350°F and toast pumpkin seeds until just browned. Remove seeds from tray and cool. Don't try toasting the seeds in a dry skillet. They toast more evenly in the oven.
After the 20 minutes, add the white vinegar to the tomato mixture and cook for 1 minute. Add the toasted pumpkin seeds. Place the mixture in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
Pour the salsa into a container and stir in the green onions and cilantro. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.
This salsa has a really great, complex flavor thanks to the charred tomatoes and the combination of the two different dried peppers. It's spicy but not exactly hot. It has a kick, but it won't burn your mouth. The curious addition of toasted pumpkin seeds seems to thicken the salsa and gives it a unique, rich earthiness. It really coats a chip in a most satisfying way. The cilantro and scallions, while probably the least essential element to the recipe, do imbue their unmistakable flavors and give the whole thing a welcome freshness. Just add a big bowl of fresh guacamole and a pitcher of margs and you're all set.
Makes 3 cups