I was so hungry this past Wednesday. I’d been running around with the kids to swim team, errands, playdates, and back again. I hadn’t really eaten beyond a couple cups of coffee and some leftover apple crisp. I was that cliche of a weary summer soul trying to figure out how to get the laundry done and the garden weeded. I had a few gorgeous minutes in the afternoon when the kids were skateboarding down our hillside with friends. I thought, I’ll just make a quick snack. But what I really wanted was the heat of the peppers growing outside in the midday sun.
I wandered down to the garden and grabbed a couple of Poblanos, a few Black Hungarian Peppers, a couple of Red Lipstick sweet peppers, a few small onions, a handful of cilantro, and a hearty sprig of mint.
Snapping peppers off the plant when they are perfectly ripe is nearly as satisfying as digging into the taste of a perfect salsa.
The kids were screaming down the hill, shrieking and laughing, and my hands were full of almost-salsa. This is summer.
I added a couple cloves of garlic to to the mix when I returned to the kitchen.
The thing is, we still don’t have ripe tomatoes. We have hundreds of them simmering on the vine. They are getting fatter every day. They are close, but not there yet. I had a few ripe ones from Middlefield Farm grown here on the island, so I knew I could work with those.
But we do have green tomatoes. A few of them fell while I worked with Brian and our brother- and sister-in-law this weekend to reframe our tomato forest into something more organized. I quickly chopped a few green ones and heated grapeseed oil in a caste iron skillet (you could use any high-heat oil, like sunflower or safflower). While my green ones fried, I chopped up everything else into salsa-size chunks. Easy-peasy.
The green tomatoes were just crispy on the outside. Slightly sweet, meaty, and with a mild tang similar to that of a tomatillo. I sprinkled them with course kosher salt and pulled them out with a slotted spoon.
And then I tossed all the ingredients with 2 teaspoons of cumin powder, a good dash of course kosher salt, the juice of 1-1/2 limes, and a few turns of the black pepper grinder.
It all looked too pretty to eat. I’ll save it for dinner, I thought kindly, while searching for some chips to give it a taste. All I could find were salt-free blue corn chips. This didn’t feel like it would fit the bill for what was set before me.
So I cut up some yellow corn tortillas into triangles, turned on the pan for the fried green tomatoes, and fried those babies up. Sprinkled them with coarse kosher salt while the grease was cooling. And surveyed the scene happily. (To go all out, you can make the chips yourself if you have masa.)
When I tried the first bite, I died a bit. I really did. The salt. The lime. The cumin. The fried green tomatoes. The hit of chopped fresh garlic. THE PEPPERS!!! The just-fried, still-warm chips coated with salt. OMG, I realized. This isn’t a snack. It’s a situation.
I happened to have a couple avocados on hand. And fresh black beans that I had cooked earlier that week. I needed to fix these up. Who doesn’t like fresh corn chips dipped in creamy, cheesy beans, guacamole, and fresh salsa? WHO DOESN’T? I challenge you to find a single soul.
Simple guacamole is just this: Open the avocado, cut into chunks, scoop out, sprinkle with salt, pepper, cumin, and lime. Add a scant amount of chopped fresh onion, a bit of fresh garlic, mix and taste and amend as necessary.
For amazing refried black beans, just heat oil in a pan. (I used the same one I used for the green tomatoes and corn chips.) Then, as the oil is hot, add a good knob of butter. This is important (if you can eat butter) because it adds a savory, fatty element to your refried beans. When the butter is nearly melted, add scoops of beans. Sprinkle with cumin and garlic powder and salt. Use a masher to incorporate, leaving some beans still whole for texture. Turn frequently to ensure everything has been properly fried. Season with more salt to taste. Pile hot in a bowl with layers of grated cheese as you scoop.
At this point I was all in. I needed someone to share my snack with. It had rapidly turned into a midday meal. I wanted a friend and a beer to go with it. Despite the various small steps, it took hardly any time at all to make it, but it needed to be eaten while still hot—stat!
Luckily, my neighbor hopped over to taste it with me. We didn’t have Corona, but we split an IPA in two jam jars. We were two tired moms blissfully aware that sometimes salsa and salty chips fill holes in our souls while listening to the echoes of our kids shrieks and laughter fill the afternoon air with a nostalgia that is all you remember as a child and all you feel as a parent mixed up into one intensely beautiful moment.
To make this at home: Grow some tomatoes and peppers next year! I’m so serious. Find a sunny nook somewhere and plan to make a little salsa garden to share with your favorite people.
In the meantime, today (it is Friday, after all) gather the freshest veggies you can find from a farm stand, CSA, or local market. Pick mild peppers like the ones I used, and turn up the heat with medium-hot ones to taste. Grab some corn tortillas and some high-heat oil. It takes all of 5 minutes to make a plate of warm chips. If you don’t want to make the beans from scratch, buy a couple of cans. Grate some cheese. Heat and layer. Repeat.
The important thing is to find your favorite music, chop away, and spend zero time worrying. With fresh ingredients and a few minutes, the taste will take care of itself.
You might suddenly realize you need some chile-coated chicken to go along with it. Or a carne asade flank steak. And margaritas. And shredded lettuce. And for you, too, this snack might turn into a serious situation.
Enjoy! Happy weekend, everyone!!