The Princeton Public Library held its fourth annual Salsa Slam last night. Eleven local eateries battled it out for salsa dominance before a hungry public AND a panel of 5 judges. (I was one of them.) Interestingly, although the judges and the public picked different first place winners, they agreed on two out the three top finishers. Olives took the judges’ top vote with its Tropical Mango Salsa with mangoes, cilantro and avocado. And the public vote was a tie between Jammin’ Crepes for its Local Summer Harvest Salsa, which featured peaches, peppers and cucumbers and Tortuga’s Mexican Village, with its traditional (and wonderful) Pico de Gallo. .
The Judges’ Picks
1. Olives – Tropical Mango Salsa
2. Nassau Inn – Watermelon Salsa
3. Jammin’ Crepes – Local Summer Harvest Salsa
The Peoples’ Picks
1. It was a tie! Between Jammin’ Crepes – Local Summer Harvest Salsa and Tortuga’s Mexican Village – Pico De Gallo
2. Nassau Inn – Watermelon Salsa
3. Savory Spice Shop – Cool As A Cucumber Salsa
Salsa is always pitted against ketchup in condiment popularity contests even though, for the last two decades, salsa has outsold ketchup. By 2013, twice as much salsa as ketchup was being sold. Part of it is demographics and different cuisines gaining in popularity, but also the uses for ketchup are somewhat limited. It’s primarily used on top of or next to hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries (eggs too, if you listen to my husband or father…) But salsa plays many roles. It can be a garnish or sauce (hence the name), a side dish, a salad or even a marinade. (Yes, ketchup lovers, I know there are many recipes that use ketchup, but it doesn’t stack up to the many varied uses for salsa.)
A good salsa is a vibrant mix of fresh ingredients. There should be a balance of acidity and salt…and often sweetness. Herbiness and heat are always good additions too. And it’s always fun to add fruit, as in the winning mango salsa.
Try this taste test at home the next time you serve salsa, whether fresh or jarred. Taste the salsa first on a spoon with no chip. Think about the taste first, of course. Ask yourself the most elementary question – does it taste good? If it doesn’t, don’t bother with the rest.
If it does, think of the balance of ingredients in each taste. Does one ingredient stand out or is there a good mix? Is it too salty? Or too acidic? Maybe it doesn’t have enough lime juice or other acid to give it a spark. Taste it on a chip next. It should taste even better with a good chip.
Next look at the salsa. Is it pretty? Are the pieces of the different ingredients chopped evenly? Is it a nice color? Muddy looking salsa, no matter how good it tastes, can’t hold a candle to a colorful, bright, fresh looking mix of chopped vegetables, herbs and perhaps fruit, which have been combined in a thoughtful way.
The Participants and Salsas:
Jammin’ Crepes – Local Summer Harvest Salsa
Masala Grill – Peach Apple Salsa
Nassau Inn – Watermelon Salsa
Olives – Tropical Mango Salsa
Princeton Soup And Salad Company – Land Or Sea Salsa
Savory Spice Shop – Cool As A Cucumber Salsa
Say Cheez – Dog Gone Salsa
Terra Learning Kitchen – Salsa Verde
Terra Libri – Esperanza’s Salsa Roja
The Taco Truck – Roasted Red Salsa
Tortuga’s Mexican Village – Pico De Gallo