My friend Shawn Marie hates when I say sappy things about her, so this time, I’ll try to keep my sentimentalism to myself. I’ll stay focused on the food, which is easy with Shawn Marie because she’s an awesome cook. As you’ll see below, she’s got strong opinions about food, and though we don’t always agree, I like her feisty personality. I always have. She’s always thinking, always trying new things. We’ve been friends for over ten years, and we were lucky enough to have spent a bunch of those years together in Chicago, roaming the city and surviving graduate school together. Now she lives in Ohio, I live in Texas, and we catch up in the form of marathon phone calls. To say that I miss her is an understatement, and I miss her food almost as much as I miss her. She’s taught me so much, and today, she’s sharing with us her salsa recipe and her beautiful food photography. One day, I swear, we will eat salsa together again! For now, we swap recipes and stories and remember all the good times we’ve shared.
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Shawn Marie writes…
I used to be a vegetarian.
When I announce this to groups of Ohioans, I usually get cheers, as though I had been to the brink, peered over—and then had come back safely to the side of sanity and reason. In fact, I usually only tell people when they’ve either confessed their own vegetarianism (really, this happened once), that they secretly love tofu (ok, so this hasn’t happened yet) or have made some particularly disparaging comment about vegetarians. The last is the most frequent and the most futile. Really, most locals suspect I am a liberal and cannot be trusted when I bring up unwieldy subjects such as vegetarianism. Giving up such inconvenient beliefs is a sign of adulthood. Some of them have gone so far as to personally take credit for changing my mistaken ways.
Logistically, it wouldn’t be too hard to be vegetarian here. I can cook just fine. What is hard is being a guest in the homes of meat-eaters, many of whom are coworkers. Summer is especially tricky, since grilling is a season here—brats pop up with asparagus in the spring and the season lasts well into November. This is a land of sausage-eaters. They are committed to their calling. No tofu-dog will sway them.
Honestly, in a throwdown between say, a House of Meats fresh pork brat and a Tofurky Italian Sausage, both fresh of the grill, the House of Meats will knock the Tofurky out. Since I cannot prepare fake meats tasty enough to take on fresh, local sausage—and let’s face it, I’m not convinced this is even possible—and since I compulsively have to bring food when I visit anyone’s house or event, and since I still don’t know much about actually cooking meat, I tend to bring tasty vegetable dishes to the sausage eaters. Things like caprese, tapenade, homemade sauerkraut, and salsa. Sausage eaters sometimes find these items odd at first, but they are usually game for trying them, and they usually come back for more.
Admittedly, salsa is pretty easy to love. It is hot, sour, hopefully garlicky, and is fundamentally a sauce—which is to say, it complements other things nicely. The salsa I prepare here is henceforth Stoplight Salsa. Rainbow salsa, which can be obtained by subbing an orange bell pepper for one of the tomatoes and a serrano instead of the habernero, is also quite tasty.
3-4 medium tomatoes (these are vine-ripened but I just get whatever smells best)
1-2 bell peppers
2 cloves garlic (roasted if you prefer)
(add onion if you must)
1-2 haberneros or other hot peppers
2 limes, juiced plus lime juice to taste
Salt to taste
Dice the pepper until it is fine. The hotter your pepper of choice, the more important this step is. With haberneros, I dice them to about 1/8”.
Put the peppers in a bowl and then salt them. While they are salting, chop garlic and add it to the peppers. Squeeze the two times of their juice and add the juice to the garlic and hot pepper. This is especially important if you hope to enjoy the salsa the same day you make it.
Now, chop the tomatoes and add them to the mix. Then add the peppers and cilantro. I like to pile them on top of each other so they make pretty layers.
Then, I like to destroy the layers. In this case, entropy is tastier than the alternative.
Note: Sausage eaters can be taught to prepare their own salsa. This second batch was prepared by a genuine sausage eater. Most of it was enjoyed by that same sausage eater. On occasion, they will take to the salsa so much that they just eat it with beans and chips and don’t bother with the meats on a regular basis anymore.