And now for something completely different
I don’t dare post pictures of what I have been up to in the kitchen anymore without posting the recipe. (I get emails…) I know I usually post about Cuban food, but I wanted to share one of my family’s favorite foods with a Mexican influence.
My family moved to California in 1964. My oldest sister was pregnant with the first grandchild and it seemed impossible to my parents that we wouldn’t all be present for the blessed event.
So after living in Miami for the first few years in exile, we moved clear across the country.
I think there was some sort federal mandate then: If you’re Cuban, you must first spend a few years in Miami until we can release you to the rest of the world. =D (kidding!)
Anyway, for the 2nd time in my young life, we made another radical move.
One of the first things that I noticed here in California was that because we spoke Spanish, people assumed we were Mexican. That was new. I knew nothing about Mexican people or their culture or their food. And as we made friends with many Mexican families, I quickly learned that Mexican food was so NOT Cuban food.
The contrasts were many: Cuban food was flavorful with garlic, mild peppers and onion for spices. Mexican food was just spicy. Their peppers were nowhere near mild. Our food has a more Spanish/European influence. Mexican food seemed much more Indian. I was about 12 when I grew brave enough to try a taco. Sorry, but I didn’t immediately love it.
But like anything else, tastes change and things grow on you. And I began to find that I kind of liked a little spiciness. (When I say little, I mean very little.)
It wasn’t until my 20′s that I finally developed a taste for chips and salsa. And guacamole.
After all, this is California and avocados are prized and celebrated here. Like Aztec gold.
There was a cool little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in Doheny/Dana Point called The Dana Villa that catered to the South Orange County surf culture (think Beach Boys, – “…down Doheny way..” - Surfin’ USA). And they made THE VERY BEST salsa fresca. Just the right amount of flavor and spice. Not the tears-running-down-your-face-smoke-coming-out-your-ears-hot-Mexican spicy. Just tasty.
We would frequent this little place at least once a week. We compared all other salsas to theirs. None came close. I tried week after week to dissect the amazing salsa. I tried again and again to re-create it in my own kitchen. I’m proud to say that I finally did get the right combination of ingredients. Woohoo! It’s flavorful and mild with just enough spiciness, but more of a “no more tears” formula.
The Villa has other special memories for me. It was where Eric and I went on our first date. And it was where he took me to dinner the night he proposed. I am happy to have preserved this recipe as part of our family favorites, because, sadly, the Villa ended up burning down about 7 years ago. (So, so sad.)
Now my own perfected Salsa Fresca Recipe is legendary among my family and friends. “You MADE this?” They always exclaim. “Yes,” I modestly reply. Along with my salsa I have also perfected the eyes-downcast-shoulder-shrugging-it-was-quite-effortless-for-the-likes-of-me pose.
I say it in the same tone that I use to say, “Of course, I can salsa… I’m Cuban.”
Marta’s Salsa Fresca
6 medium ripe tomatoes (diced) with their juice
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/2 small red onion (diced)
1 white onion ( diced)
4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 tsp. lime juice (fresh squeezed is better)
1/2 small can mild green chiles
1/4 cup fresh chopped chives
salt & pepper to taste
Mix together all ingredients. If you have a food processor, process cilantro, tomatoes and onions individually.
3 ripe avocados
1/2 cup Marta’s Salsa Fresca
3 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh squeezed is better)
Blend together in a food processor. Reserve one of the avocado seeds to place in the salsa. The seed along with the lemon juice keeps the guacamole from turning brown and helps it maintain freshness.
Tastes best when served with fresh, hot tortilla chips.