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Fresh Summer Salsa

(post, Jessica Harrell)

In the house where I grew up when I come home to visit, my parents and I congregate around the kitchen island and chat, catching up over the preparation of glorious home cooked meals and the eating of it that followed. When I was in college and would come home for part of the summer, my mom and I would often choose a few adventurous meals to cook together. My memories of these times are surrounded by the colors of the summer vegetables and the tastes of their Southern-style preparation. 

One of our favorite summer food adventures involved exploring the downtown farmers’ market and collecting summer squash, pole beans, freshly shelled lima beans, cucumbers and tomatoes, and peaches for cobbler leaving my father searching aimlessly for the meat in our all-veggie meal. We didn’t travel to the market often though – it was at least half an hour away – so when we did go, we made the best of it. At that perfect time of year, mid-August, our favorite Tennessee tomatoes would come into full force. The bright red, plump fruits were our most prized selection. 

During the season when the tomatoes were their reddest, we would buy a basketful, along with an onion or two, some tomatillos, jalapeños, garlic, and cilantro.  We’d go home, after stopping at the grocery store for tortilla chips, and go to chopping tomato after tomato, taking care not to touch our eyes after touching a jalapeño, and plucking handfuls of fresh basil leaves from the herb garden. We had a recipe, but we used it as a more of a guideline, tasting often and adding carefully once the main ingredients had been mixed together.

When we were finished, we would have what looked like an entire summer’s harvest worth of salsa spilling over the edges of the largest bowl my mother owned. By the end of the week, the bowl would be scraped clean by chips, tacos, fajitas, and whatever other foods we could eat that week to best highlight our favorite summer salsa. 

This summer, I have moved back into that house for a few more months before I leave my hometown to move across the country. I have sat at that same kitchen island talking to my mother about buying new tires for my worn out car and whether or not I should get a AAA membership in case I get stranded on the side of the road. As I plan, and she listens as she always does so well, we both know that when all the tomatoes have been picked from their vines and the pumpkins are making their way to the farmers’ market stands I’m going to pile as many books and rain jackets (and kitchen utensils) into my car and pull out of the driveway for the Northwest. 

So, as I prepare for my getaway, my mom and I also make one last pilgrimage to fresh salsa heaven. On a Sunday afternoon, using produce I picked up at the Farmers’ Market on my way home from downtown, we set to chopping once more. As evening comes over the horizon we take our first bite, add a little more basil and jalapeno, give the salsa one more thorough stir and gaze upon our high summer delicacy filling the bowl.

We stand around the kitchen island dipping chip after chip and talking of the adventures that lay ahead. We cherish not only the flavor of the food but the familiarity of the hands that prepared it and the kitchen in which it was prepared. Something magical and peaceful occurs when we gather around the table for a meal. I tuck away these memories of salsa making with the other memories of cooking and eating with my family here, and I smile at the prospect sharing stories with them in this same place when I come home, once again, to visit. 

Recipe (or guidelines) for Fresh Summer Salsa

5-6 tomatoes
1-2 onions
2 tomatillos
1 jalapeño (or more to taste, but watch out, they’re HOT)
3 cloves of garlic
1 handful of fresh cilantro 
8-10 fresh basil leaves
¼ cup lemon or lime juice

Chop the first seven ingredients and mix together in a large bowl or put in the food processor. Squeeze a ¼ cup or more of lemon or lime juice to taste. Mix well and enjoy with tortilla chips or on tacos or nachos.