January 12, 2005
Visions of whirling women in bright colored skirts, men dancing their way across the floor, dressed to the nines. Not that kind.
Salsa is simply a Spanish word for sauce. Now, in our nortamericano daily parlance, we usually use it to denote a somewhat fiery red or green sauce for dipping tortilla chips into. Often we see it on restaurant menus to refer to some chopped blend of vegetables, fruits and spices that accompany a dish. But we keep going back to that dipping sauce in our minds.
For me, however, as a chef, I tend to think of salsas in terms of what a Mexican chef might call a salsa cruda. That is, a chopped blend of raw or barely cooked ingredients that is used as the sauce on a dish. And the couple of recipes I’m going to give you aren’t going to relate to Latin American cooking. They’re just a couple of my current favorites that I hope you’ll try out and enjoy!
I was reading my favorite cooking magazine, Australian Gourmet Traveller (one of the best written consumer food magazines out there, even if the vocabulary takes some getting used to), and came across a reference to a fascinating sounding veal dish. No recipe was provided, so I experimented and came up with this little gem that we all fell in love with.
Veal Scallops with Meyer Lemon Salsa
1½ pounds of thinly sliced veal scallopini
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large seedless cucumber
3 Meyer lemons (not regular lemons, Meyers are sweet lemons from Florida)
2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped fresh oregano
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Peel and dice the cucumber. Remove the peel from the lemons and carefully cut out the individual segments of the lemons, then cut each segment in half. Add the oregano and the extra virgin olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let it sit for at least an hour.
Season the veal scallops with salt and pepper. Saute them in a mix of the butter and olive oil (or just use one of the new “butter flavored” olive oil spreads), until lightly browned. Serve topped with the salsa, which can be left room temperature or slightly warmed. If you’re not into veal, this salsa works just as well on thinly pounded chicken breasts, or even a sauteed slice of tempeh!
Beef Fillet with Radish Salsa
Okay, it sounds strange, but it is oh, so good!
4 beef fillets, each about 6 ounces
1 bunch of icicle radishes (these are pure white and sort of long and skinny radishes)
a dozen or so fresh mint leaves
2 serrano peppers
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper
Peel the limes and coarsely chop the peel. Mix the peel, the juice of the limes, and a bit of salt and pepper to make a marinade. Rub the beef all over with this and let it stand in the refrigerator, occasionally turning it to recoat, for at least 2 hours.
In a food processor, pulse the radishes (greens removed), the serranos (seeds and stems removed), and the mint leaves, until you have a coarse mixture. Add olive oil, and the salt and pepper to taste, and let sit for at least an hour.
In a very hot pan, sear the beef fillets on both sides, and then put the whole pan into a hot (500°F) oven. Let it cook for about 5-10 minutes depending on how done you like your beef. You can always stick the pan back in if you check a fillet and it isn’t done enough.
I like to serve this one by slicing the fillets and fanning them out on the plate and then topping with the salsa.
For the non-beef folk, try this one with portabello mushroom caps, just don’t over cook the caps in the oven, five minutes is usually plenty of time.
I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.