I remember clearly the first time I tried to make salsa.
My best friend and I had stopped at our favorite Mexican place to pick up some steak quesadillas and had forgotten to get the little to go cups of salsa. We were distraught, we were dismayed and we were creative.
Well I was creative. She…at that point she was the only person I knew of who could burn water. Because we were meeting a few friends at my parent’s restaurant we decided that we were going to make our own.
Though beyond tomatoes and jalapeno peppers we had NO idea what went into a salsa.
I being the enterprising thing that I was diced up some tomatoes and some pickled jalapeno peppers and then stopped. It sure as heck didn’t look like salsa. And adding a bit of salt and a few experimental slices of garlic didn’t help any. The jalapeno juice just made it worst… and the basil…ok… I won’t tell you about the basil in the salsa.
It was an experience that she never let me live down. Quite possibly the worst salsa ever.
Many years passed between that experience and the first time I decided to make salsa again. Having started well on my way down culinary debauchery I had started to make salsas from mangoes and mint and all kinds of things; relishes more than salsas really. They were good. They were what I had intended but they were not what I consider salsa.
You know. The tomato kind.
Burned by my bad experience I had made it out to be this mysterious fearful thing that was only possible to make if your grandmother bequeathed the ability unto you in an arcane ceremony involving peyote and a good deal of tequila.
It wasn’t until a work pot luck that the mists cleared away and I was blessed with the recipe for the perfect salsa. I was working for a multinational corporation at the time that had a rather liberal policy about moving people all over the world to gain experience. So Jesse had come to us from the central part of Mexico where he had been raised on his family’s ranch. Salsa, he explained was a daily requirement for the workers.
No matter the weather the family and the ranch hands would gather for the midday meal over a roaring open fire. Salsa was made at the table and if it was not available I was told in no uncertain terms that the ranch hands would riot. He said it was simple fare, meat grilled over an open flame, home made corn tortillas, frilled veggies and salsa. Nothing more, nothing less.
He was telling me all this as I watched him stuff halved tomatoes, cilantro, jalapenos, garlic, and lime juice in a blender and hit frappe. He paused long enough to open the jar and show me the slightly frothy contents. “Just like home.” He said with a sigh as he handed me a chip.
After all he had said about it I had expected something a lot more complicated. Something slow cooked over an open fire. A tomato sauce so to speak.
But what I got instead was a burst of fresh flavor. Bright tomato and cilantro with a little heat with a garlic finish. One taste and my skepticism turned to elation.
I have never made salsa any other way. I should note however that since the salsa is so simple there is no room for so-so tomatoes. Tomatoes for this should be at their peak of flavor.
Luckily California seems to have a second growing season for tomatoes as well.
Of course the perfect accompaniment to salsa is guacamole. The combination of spicy salsa and cooking guac is absolutely irresistible.
Oddly enough, it was my best friend, the one who can’t cook who taught me how to make my favorite guacamole. She was a huge fan of avocado so it came as no surprise to anyone that one of the few recipes she knew as for something avocado related.
Her recipe is different than most. It purees the avocado creating a soothing puree with just a hint of sour creaminess.
I often make the two together raising a chip to her. Where ever she may be. Jesse’s Ranchero Salsa
1/3 of a bunch cilantro, stems trimmed
1 jalapeno or Serrano chile 
Juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt to taste
Jesse’s Ranchero Salsa6 small ripe tomatoes, quartered
Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and allow to stand while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
Put the rest of the ingredients into the food processor and process until smooth .
Taste to adjust salt and serve.
This is the kind of recipe that is even better the next day. But the salsa should be refrigerated as soon as possible after it is made or it will start to spoil. In the fridge it will keep for a week.
Kelly’s Creamy Guacamole
Juice of 1 lime
1/3 cup salsa
¼ cup sour cream, silken tofu, or Greek yogurt 
Mash the avocadoes with a fork until smooth and creamy. Mix in the lime juice, salsa and sour cream. Blend until thoroughly combined.
Taste for salt.
For extra heat add a little bit more salsa and some crushed garlic.
To store cover the top with plastic wrap tamping it down so that it is directly touching the surface. Cover again with another layer over the top or with a tight fitting lid.
If the top turns brown, scrap off the brown parts, stir the remainder with the juice of half a lime and server.
 Serranos are typical spicier than jalapeno so if you want a little more heat, use a Serrano chile or two. If you want a milder salsa use the jalapeno. For the mildest salsa possible, remove the seeds and white veins inside the jalapeno and discard. The heat of a pepper is in the seeds and veins.
 For a chunkier salsa, reserve two of the tomatoes. Once the rest of the salsa is smooth and uniform, add in the remaining tomatoes and pulse until desired consistency is reached.
 Kelly always used sour cream. I find sour Greek yogurt just as good and much lower in fat. And for a completely vegan version, silken tofu with a bit of lemon juice is wonderful.