Great with Chips, Even Better with Grilled Fish or Chicken
Colorful, juicy peaches are one of the delights of summer. Their sweetness shines beautifully in rich desserts, particularly baked goodies like pies and cobblers.
But peaches also marry well with savory. And spicy flavors offer a particularly intriguing contrast to peaches’ lush sweetness.
One of the easiest — and best — savory peach dishes is Peach Salsa. You can serve it with chips as an appetizer. Or pair it with grilled fish or chicken (it takes grilled salmon up a level in flavor and elegance).
And you can make it in just a few minutes.
Recipe: Peach Salsa
Salsa is Spanish for sauce. When someone says “salsa,” most of us think tomatoes. But you can make salsa from almost anything: tomatillos, dried chilies, corn, mangoes, pineapple — or peaches. Salsas are fun to play around with in the kitchen. You can adjust ingredients and quantities to suit your individual palate.
Diana Kennedy has an excellent chapter on salsas in The Cuisines of Mexico. She doesn’t include a peach version, but I borrowed some of her basic ideas for salsa making when I developed my recipe.
This recipe yields 2 to 3 cups. Leftovers keep well for a few days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- 3 or 4 ripe (but firm) peaches, washed, pitted, and cut into ½-inch (or smaller) dice (you can skin the peaches if you want, but I usually don’t)
- ½ of a red onion, peeled and cubed
- 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers, washed, seeded, and minced
- 3 - 4 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
- juice of 1 lime
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional; start with just a little if you are sensitive to the heat)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- sugar to taste (very optional; use only if you’ve made your salsa too spicy; see notes)
- Wash your peaches. Using a knife, cut into the fruit at the equator (across the crease) until the knife reaches the pit; then cut a circle all around the circumference of the peach. Twisting slightly, you should be able to separate the two peach halves. Assuming you have freestone peaches (see notes), the pit should pop right out (see notes for what to do with clingstone peaches). Dice peaches into cubes of ½-inch or smaller. Place in mixing bowl.
- Peel and mince your red onion (the smaller the dice are, the better — but don’t obsess about mincing too finely). If you want, you can use a mini food processor. Add minced onion to peaches.
- Wash jalapeño peppers and cut lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful, the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Chop into very small dice (you may want to use a mini food processor; if you go this route, you may want to dice the jalapeño peppers and red onion together). Add to the peaches, and then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
- Wash, stem, and finely mince the cilantro. Add to the mixing bowl.
- Juice a lime, add juice to mixing bowl.
- In the mixing bowl, toss peaches, onion, jalapeño pepper, cilantro, and lime juice together. Tasting as you go, add salt, freshly ground pepper, and the optional cayenne pepper until the salsa tastes good to you.
- If your salsa seems too spicy, adding some sugar will tone the flavor down.
- Although you can serve Peach Salsa immediately, I think it tastes better if you chill it for at least an hour. This allows the flavors to mellow together.
|Peach Salsa and grilled chicken
- Peaches are drupes, a type of fleshy fruit with a pit (stone). Peaches can be either clingstone or freestone. If the flesh separates easily from the pit, it’s a freestone; if the flesh sticks tightly to the pit, it’s a clingstone. Both types of peaches are available in supermarkets, although freestones seem to predominate.
- It can be difficult to separate the flesh if the peach is a clingstone. I usually cut the peach into wedges (rather than just cutting it in half) and remove the flesh bit by bit. You won’t be able to get all the flesh off the stone this way, so you may need to use an additional peach.
- If there’s a way to identify by sight whether a peach is a freestone or a clingstone, I don’t know it. If it matters to you (it usually doesn’t to me), ask your friendly produce clerk. Most will know (if they don’t, they generally will cut open a peach to find out).
- Sugar can mask hot spicy flavors. So if you put too much cayenne or jalapeño pepper in your Peach Salsa, adding sugar will make it more palatable. You can also add sugar if you want a sweeter salsa, of course — although I find that if peaches are ripe, the salsa will be more than sweet enough without added sugar.
- I like my salsa to be chunky. If you want it more liquid, briefly pulse the salsa mixture 2 or 3 times in the food processor to break it up a little. You don’t want to completely liquefy it; the mouth feel of the salsa won’t be as pleasing, and the color will turn muddy.
- Markets often stock decent “imported” peaches from the major growing states (California and Georgia are two biggies). In season, however, it pays to look for local peaches. They will be fresher and riper — which translates into bigger and better flavor. Here in St. Louis, we’re lucky to have several nearby peach orchards, with Eckert’s being perhaps the most prominent.
- Once you know how to make one salsa, you basically know how to make them all. The essential salsa elements are: a base ingredient (peaches in this recipe); an aromatic like onion or shallots; a fresh herb (cilantro, mint, parsley — whatever you think would work); usually a bit of acid to balance the mixture (lime or lemon juice; sometimes vinegar works too); a “ping” ingredient (jalapeño peppers, sometimes ginger or garlic); and salt and pepper to add the final tone to the dish. Play with flavors you like to develop your own “house” salsa.
With Salsa, Fresh Is Definitely Better — And You Have More Choices
It’s so easy to buy supermarket salsas that many of us never think about making homemade versions. But freshly made salsa is much better than even the best commercial brand. Most Mexican restaurants make their own salsas daily — which is a big reason why the chips and salsa always taste so good at your neighborhood hole-in-the-wall Mexican eatery.
Commercially prepared salsas generally are tomato-based, which is fine. But there’s a whole world of alternative flavors out there.
You can serve your fresh, homemade salsa with chips, but why not put it to work dressing up an entrée? With a fresh salsa garnish, your run-of-the-mill grilled chicken suddenly becomes company fare. And you look like a hero.
Of course, you’ll know the salsa was a snap to make. But there’s no need to tell your guests.
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